Our first look at Adam arrives amidst controversy in certain trans pockets of social media.
The film's trailer, which Vulturepremiered on Monday, finds 17-year-old Adam Freeman (Nicholas Alexander) leaving his mom's house in the unnamed suburbs to spend the summer in Brooklyn with his older queer sister, Casey (Margaret Qualley). Adam's straight and cis, but Casey's friends don't know that. They read him as trans, and he doesn't correct them -- not even Gillian (Bobbi Salvor Menuez), a queer woman who takes interest in the cis teenage boy, thinking he's a trans college student at Berkeley.
Did I mention that it's set in 2006? I think the trailer's use of mid-aughts queer dance party staple "Deceptacon" does that for me. (And if not that, then the scenes featuring Pose star Mj Rodriguez that take place at Camp Trans, the once-annual protest gathering of Michfest's transphobic "womyn-born-womyn" policy.) But just to clarify: Adam is set in 2006.
Also starring Leo Sheng and Chloe Levine, Adam opened to mostly positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. In her review for Out, critic Danielle Solzman wrote that while its central conceit might sound "transphobic and gross" on paper, Adam succeeds thanks to director Rhys Ernst, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker who served as a producer on Transparent and happens to be a trans man himself. Variety contributor Dennis Harvey highlighted Alexander's performance in particular, praising the young actor for "making his hero's haplessness funny without inching toward caricature."
The film, adapted from Ariel Schrag's 2014 young adult novel of the same name by Schrag herself, doesn't hit theaters until next month, but it has already encountered criticism online, most of it centering on Adam's source material. In a widely circulated Tumblr post, poet and YouTuber India Hendrie writes that Schrag's work is "the most disgustingly transphobic and lesbophobic narrative I've ever come across," arguing that the book implies "that our identities are just costumes for other people to put on."
Ernst addressed some of the preemptive criticism for his adaptation of Adam in a Medium post published last year. "Believe me, I had concerns," he writes. He promises readers that he and Schrag have made a number of changes in adapting the novel. "I believe the changes address many of the concerns that have been raised about the novel," Ernst continues. "My job as the film's director, after all, was to create a whole new work inspired by, and also in critical dialogue with, the source material. Bottom line, the film had to be its own thing."
Adam opens in New York City on Aug. 14 and in Los Angeles on Aug. 23. There are plans to expand the film to other cities in the following weeks, Ernst's publicist confirmed over email.