The basic premise of Adam is that a cisgender male pretends to be a transgender man in order to date a lesbian. On paper, the whole idea could honestly be considered transphobic and gross. This couldn’t be truer when you consider how one of the biggest conservative talking points around bathroom bills centers on the idea that men will pretend to be trans in order to enter women’s restrooms. But why this film works as well is it does is because transgender filmmaker Rhys Ernst is at its helm.
The film, set in 2006, follows Adam Freeman (Nicholas Alexander), an awkward teenager and rising senior in high school. By all accounts, he should be having the time of his life while enjoying those last few years of freedom before entering the real world. Instead, his parents think he’s depressed. With his best friend Brad spending time elsewhere, Adam decides to call up his sister, Casey (Margaret Qualley). She suggests he spends time with her in New York. But while quality sibling bonding time is great, she’s a lesbian and the two of them don’t exactly hang out with the same crowd. Despite this, Adam decides to make the best of it. If he can meet a girl, he thinks, the trip would be completely worth it.
Casey, by the way, is the type of lesbian who frequents bars and rallies for marriage equality. She has such an interesting love life, living with June (Chloë Levine) (who has an unrequited crush on Casey), while first dating Boy Casey (Maxton Miles Baeza) — a transgender man — and then pursuing Hazel (Dana Aliya Levinson), a transgender woman.
The plot of the comedy kicks off at a marriage equality march where Adam spots the redheaded Gillian (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) across the way and goes against common sense logic. Rather than just forgetting her, he decides to make a move the next time he sees her in the hope that she might be bisexual.
Soon, Adam finds himself at a party that Casey has followed Hazel to. Do note that it doesn’t matter that Hazel is against gay marriage because Casey would follow her anywhere. Gillian is at this party and Adam decides to approach her by doing the classic thing that boys do—spill a drink on her. When Gillian makes the assumption that Adam is a trans man, he doesn't correct her, one of the worst possible ideas in the history of ideas.
There’s a definite argument here about the transphobic stunt Adam pulls. At the same time, he does a great amount to learn what it means to be trans. For example, he’s able to call out Brad for misgendering a trans woman and not truly understanding transgender issues when a trans woman is murdered.
One of the things that is great about Ernst’s feature debut is the amount of LGBTQ talent in this cast. While transgender talent are fighting just to get in the room, trans filmmakers are making it happen. It’s obviouos that there is truly a lot of care that goes into the film, and even though Ariel Schrag isn’t trans herself, her script (based on her own book of the same name) is knowledgeable enough that the major issues are treated with sensitivity. This includes a scene at a Camp Trans protest against Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival—featuring a superb supporting performance from Pose’s MJ Rodriguez. And the film ends with one of the biggest laughs in cinematic history by taking a nice dig at a certain state.
Ultimately, Adam is one of those films that works well, both as a learning lesson and a conversation starter for transgender issues. And it's clear it has Ernst to thank for it.
Editor's note: This review has been updated to provide greater clarity about the film.