'Adam' Review With Casey
Sometimes a film gains attention for great acting performances or for new special effects technology, and sometimes a film gains attention for controversy. Adam has made a mark as a controversial film.
Based on the 2014 novel by lesbian writer Ariel Schrag, Adam is a sweet, plucky, coming-of-age story in the colorful bold world of queer culture. Adam is a nerdy, straight, cisgender teenager who travels to New York City to spend the summer with his older lesbian sister in her Bushwick apartment in 2006. Adam tags along to a lesbian nightclub, an LGBTQ political rally, and a crowded house party surrounded by the gay, lesbian, and transgender community of Brooklyn, creating a fun reversal of the heterosexual white male being the outsider. When Adam meets a lesbian and becomes immediately enamored by her, he tries to win her heart by letting her assume Adam is a transgender man. So a complicated and wary romance ensues. This version of mistaken identity takes viewers on a heartfelt journey of the complexities of gender, sexuality, and love shown through a shy, awkward, inexperienced generation.
Adam initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019 and had a wider release in selected theaters in August 2019. Adam is now accessible on Hulu and is a rare example of a film about transgender lives with transgender actors (like Boy Meets Girl from 2014 and Tangerine from 2015).
Last year, many people reacted negatively to Adam saying it was transphobic, exploitative, fostered TERF mentality, and portrayed inaccuracies about LGBTQ culture. But because films like this are so rare, and are often filled with so much gritty honesty, viewers should first at least be thankful that Adam exists and offers a glimpse into a world often ignored, ridiculed, or looked down on in mainstream cinema. A film with the perfect, all-inclusive, 20/20 vision of the contemporary transgender experience doesn't exist. And a film like that will likely never exist (far too many nuances, individual backgrounds, and racial facets of the transgender experience even exist to fit into any one film). Since Adam is shown through the perspective of a privileged, white, sheltered, high school kid (named Adam), the transgender/queer experience is not shown with the greatest maturity or understanding. But lacking maturity and understanding is part of many coming-of-age films, and the protagonist in these films eventually learns the consequences of their mistakes.
Director Rhys Ernst (from the family drama series, Transparent, that ran from 2014-2019), who is himself a transgender man, does not water down the joyful and sexually frolicsome attitude of trans and queer lives with this film. Is Adam a sensational triumph everyone will love? No. (Maybe it waters down the precarity of trans lives too much thereby contributing to a false sense of realism.) But it does hit the mark as a quiet tale about young people simply, and clumsily, trying to figure out love (regardless of their gender or queer identity). Adam may not be as woke as it should be for all viewers, but at least it felt sincere. It felt like a summer love story you didn't even know existed.