We’ve all seen the rom-com where the man pretends to be something he’s not to impress the woman he’s interested in. Premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh, coming-of-age story Adam takes this one-step further.
Based on a novel from Ariel Schrag (who penned the screenplay), it centres on the title character (Nicholas Alexander). He’s a 17-year-old boy who comes to New York City in the summer of 2006 to live with his older sister Casey (rising star Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers). Adam is straight and cisgender. But he’s introduced to the LGBTQ community of New York through his sibling who is a lesbian. During his stay, he becomes attracted to gay woman, Gillian (Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Under the Silver Lake). After being mistaken by her for a transgender man, he decides not to correct her error in order to date her.
Produced by Fleadh special guest and frequent Ang Lee collaborator James Schamus (The Ice Storm, Lust, Caution), Adam’s premise could cause controversy. To the movie’s credit however, it handles its subject matter with a deft touch. The movie never downplays the gravity of the central situation. We see extended scenes of Adam wrestling with guilt over his lie. However, even when he does some ethically dubious things, the teen’s actions always feel borne out of loneliness rather than a predatory nature.
On top of this, the film displays a real respect for the LGBTQ community – feeling both authentic and celebratory. This is no doubt down to being directed by trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst (Transparent) who packs the cast with a whole host of trans performers including Leo Sheng as another of Casey’s roommates and Pose’s MJ Rodriguez in a notable brief turn. The drama revolves around Adam becoming more accepting of others. Schooling up on what trans people go through to continue his deception, he develops an admiration for their bravery. He ultimately realises using a marginalised identity for his own gain is incredibly problematic.
What begins as a movie about a straight man attempting to trick a lesbian into having sex with him quickly becomes something deeper. Adam is about the the lengths people with little self-confidence will go to in order to spark a romance with someone. Throughout, various characters – including Casey – put on different personas in order to connect with their crushes. This is before they all learn that the most natural way to do so is to be themselves.
Running period setting gags about M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water and The L Word (on which Schrag worked), as well as an extended fish-out-of-water sequence whereby Adam winds up in a strictly lesbian S&M bar called The Hole add some comedic juice to the enterprise. All the while, the movie answers any nagging questions you may have had about the lead character and Gillian’s relationship in a well-judged finale, which also gives the latter far more agency than expected.
Arriving following the backlash transgender drama and Cannes winner Girl received upon general release earlier in the year, Adam is a great argument for letting trans people tell their stories.