'Adam' Review: A Lighthearted Romantic Comedy Provides Perspective On Gender And Sexual Identity [Sundance]

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

There have been plenty of romantic comedies where one of the parties involved pretends to be something they're not in order to get the object of their affection to fall deeply in love with them. But what we haven't seen is one of those movies set firmly in the world of the LGBTQ community during the summer of 2006 in New York City. And we especially haven't seen one where a high school kid falls for a lesbian girl, who assumes he's a trans boy, and decides to keep up the facade in order to keep the relationship going. That's where the Sundance selected film Adam comes into play.

If that premise sounds problematic, that's because it is, and some who encountered Ariel Schrag's 2014 book on which it's based thought the same thing. But in 2018, and in the hands of trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst (Transparent), the film is a lighthearted, funny, and poignant exploration of gender and sexual identity that allows for mistakes to be made and forgiven, all in favor of inclusiveness and love.

Adam follows the titular 18-year old (Nicholas Alexander) who decides to spend the summer of 2006 with his lesbian sister Casey (Margaret Qualley) in New York. She's desperately trying to belong in this evolving LGBTQ crowd of misfits who were facing much more persecution and prejudice at the time but still found camaraderie and love among each other as they faced adversity at almost every turn. Adam sees this as an opportunity to hook up with some New York girls and escape an otherwise boring summer at home.

When Adam arrives in New York, he has trouble fitting in with Casey's group, mostly because he's a CIS male who really doesn't understand the complexities of gender and sexual identity among them. He asks questions about "her" and "him," while questioning the authenticity of the label of trans men and women. Casey's vaguely annoyed at his inquisition, but it's not treated in a way that feels abrasive. Plus, the awkwardness, cluelessness and wide-eyed innocence with which Nicolas Alexander plays Adam makes his missteps all the more forgivable, especially at a time when this culture was just rising to prominence in the public eye.

However, what's not forgivable is allowing a lesbian girl named Gillian (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) experimenting with her own sexuality to believe that he's a trans boy. But rather than approaching this from a judgmental angle, director Rhys Ernst and screenwriter Ariel Schrag, adapting her own book, craft a lighthearted romantic comedy about the mistakes made within a community that is still figuring themselves out. After all, not only are they facing adversity, but they're in their early 20s, one of the most difficult periods in anyone's adult life. Comedy comes from Adam awkwardly trying to keep up this deception, especially when his hetero-bro friend Brad (Colton Ryan) rolls into town. Plus, let's not forget the candid explorations of what sex as a trans boy is like, and a visit to a lesbian S&M bar called The Hole, two sequences which make for some of the biggest laughs of the movie.

Meanwhile, there's also a wonderful friendship that blossoms between Adam and Casey's roommate Ethan (Leo Sheng). Ethan becomes Adam's confidant as he tries to help him win over this lesbian girl. Of course, he doesn't know that the entire relationship is based on a much larger lie than Adam being 20 and in college. But this friendship is another piece of the film that allows Adam to learn another important lesson.

What makes Adam special is the fact that this is a movie about the LGBTQ community that doesn't explicitly focus on the struggles and prejudice of the time. Those elements are still there lingering in the background, but details like a gay marriage rally and a news story about a trans girl beaten by a group of straight men only serve to further the development of Adam's education and understanding of this world he's stumbled into. It might also serve as a lesson for some members of the audience, too.

Adam doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to romantic comedy, but that's not the point. This is a movie that aims to be inclusive by not approaching the LGBTQ crowd as a niche population, but just as another group of friends you might be hanging out with on the weekend. Adam is intentionally generic (in a good way) to make what's queer the new normal. It works much in the same way that Love, Simon did last year by creating a gay romantic comedy that doesn't feel different simply because it deals with homosexuality. Though that shouldn't underscore the significance of seeing a diverse supporting cast full of gay, trans and queer actors and actresses of all races.

As Hollywood stars to diversify, these are the kind of movies previously oppressed populations want to see. People of all sexes, genders, races and sexual identities deserve to see themselves on the big screen and deserve their own genre movies that aren't inherently about the struggles they faced. Not every movie about a trans boy or girl needs to be tragic, and not every story about a gay or lesbian person needs to be about coming out. They deserve their own genre movies just as the rest of the world has been given for decades. Now is the time, and Adam is a great step towards exploring the complexities of this world in an accessible way.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10