‘Adam’ a Charming and Celebratory Exploration of the Trans and Lesbian Community

An awkward teen in his last summer of high school decides to spend the long break in New York City with his older sister, who fully embraces the city’s trans and lesbian activist community. The siblings, along with their friends, stumble their way through love, friendship, and pain. Based on Ariel Schrag’s novel of the same name, Adam is charming in both its portrayal of teen awkwardness and the messiness of first and second loves, gay, straight, or anything in between. (RMM: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan

It is the year 2006 and awkward teen “Adam” (Nicholas Alexander) just wants to find love, or at least a girlfriend, just like his best friend “Brad” (Colton Ryan) has found. In fact, Brad is opting to spend vacation with said girlfriend instead of joining Adam on his family’s annual lake trip. Things wouldn’t be so bad if older sister “Casey” (Margaret Qualley) hadn’t also backed out of the trip, choosing instead to spend the summer in NYC with her “boyfriend.” At least, that’s what the parents think since she still hasn’t told them that she is gay. Preferring not to spend the next three months with just his parents, Adam takes up an offer from Casey to stay in her apartment’s spare room instead (which, in New York fashion, is really more of a closet). 

At Casey’s apartment, Adam meets roommates “Ethan” (Leo Sheng) and “June” (Chloë Levine). Having just ended a relationship, Casey quickly moves on to who her friends refer to as “Boy Casey” (Maxton Miles Baeza), a transgender man. The relationship is rather short-lived as Casey soon finds him kissing another woman at a lesbian bar. Meanwhile at the same bar, Adam finds himself locking lips with a woman in the bathroom – an encounter that ends abruptly after Adam realizes that she believes him to be a transgender man. 

Later, at a march for gay marriage, Casey encounters Boy Casey as well as her new crush “Hazel” (Dana Aliya Levinson), who are both protesting the march with the banner “Gays against Marriage” because they’re “against the assimilationist homo-normalization of the LGBTQUI movement.” Casey changes her stance on gay marriage in order to get closer to Hazel, ignoring the fact that June has practically been in love with her for all this time. 

At a mostly lesbian party, Adam meets ginger “Gillian” (Bobbi Salvör Menuez). Against all odds, Gillian finds his awkwardness endearing and agrees to go on a date with him, despite the fact that she is gay. To make matters worse, Gillian is the second person to have mistaken Adam for a trans man. Rather than clear up the misunderstanding, Adam allows the lie to continue for the sake of continuing the relationship, which grows deeper as the summer progresses. 

There are many aspects of this film to laud. What I liked most immediately was the ease with which Adam and Casey talk to each other. Their banter paired with moments of tension between the two demonstrate a very accurate depiction of what a sibling relationship is often like. It reminded me of myself and my younger brother. Though they keep aspects of themselves (Adam’s loneliness, Casey’s homosexuality) from their parents, they still find an outlet in each other. Their natural conversation also juxtaposes nicely with Adam’s social awkwardness, magnifying the uncomfortability of said awkwardness. Those cringeworthy moments in which he reads a cue incorrectly or says the wrong thing also ground the film in that place between innocence and adulthood, where a person is still trying to navigate their sexuality, their body, and their personality. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, there is an extra danger in baring oneself and willing the world to accept them as they are.

Speaking more generally, I am happy to see more queer representation in a film, especially the stories and perspectives of transgender people, a group even more marginalized than the gay community. Through Adam’s own curious and observant eyes, we get a look at this vibrant, lively, passionate community of people who have spent their lives fighting for the right to be themselves. Scenes at Camp Trans – campers laughing among like-minded company and a transgender woman’s powerful spoken poetry – brought  tears to my eyes as I realized that in real life, these moments allow members of this community to feel loved and understood.

While Adam does offer the perspectives of a community that is worth celebrating, it also makes it painfully clear that we need more of these perspectives in TV, film, and other forms of media with members of the queer community taking center stage as the protagonists. Adam’s character might spark conversation about masculinity and teach the lesson that one should broaden their perspectives to consider those of others, but he does this through the help of the trans and gay people around him. Often times in media, these people work mostly as side characters to help the cisgender lead find him or herself. But these characters deserve more than to simply serve as tools progressing a straight person’s journey. I am not trying to reduce this film to a critique. On the contrary, it is an important stepping stone that will help move this wonderful community to the forefront of our consciousness. But there is still more ground to cover. 

Director Rhys Ernst and writer Ariel Schrag deliver a moving look at a community that deserves more attention. Definitely worth the watch. 

© Roza M. Melkumyan (8/16/19) FF2 Media












Featured Photo: Adam and Gillian enjoy drinks with friends. 

Top Photo: Adam looks startled.

Middle Photo: Adam and Gillian have their first date. 

Bottom Photo: Casey, Adam and friends have a movie night. 

Photo Credits: Jeong Park

Q: Does Adam pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?  

No…but yes?

As the film follows Adam and never really strays, he is always present when women have conversations about women. These conversations are present, however.

Tags: Adam, Ariel Schrag, FF2 Media, Roza Melkumyan

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As a member of the FF2 Media team, Roza writes features and reviews and coaches other associates and interns. She joined the team as an intern herself during her third year of study at New York University. There she individualized her major and studied narrative through a cultural lens and in the mediums of literature, theatre, and film. At school, Roza studied abroad in Florence and London, worked as a Resident Assistant, and workshopped a play she wrote and co-directed. Since graduating, she spent six months in Spain teaching English and practicing her Spanish. Most recently, she spent a year in Armenia teaching university English as a Fulbright scholar. Her love of film has only grown over the years, and she is dedicated to providing the space necessary for female filmmakers to prosper.
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