Monday, January 28, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Adam

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Rhys Ernst

Everyone always talks about teenage years as a transformative time in a person’s life, where puberty and other changes can drastically affect how someone behaves and experiences the world. For some, it’s a particularly rough time, and it can take until young adulthood to truly be able to find yourself and live comfortably in your own skin. As times change, being different and expressing sexual orientations and gender identities that are not heteronormative becomes more commonplace and accepted in some circles. Most films find someone struggling to fit in because they’re not anyone’s definition of normal, and it’s fun to see a film that flips that idea on its head.

Adam (Nicholas Alexander) isn’t excited about spending the summer with his parents, and decides instead to come to New York to stay with his sister Casey (Margaret Qualley). While she hides the fact that she’s gay from her parents, Casey expresses herself freely when they’re not around, and Adam gets pulled into a circle of people he’s not at all accustomed to being around, attending marches for gay rights and events for transgender inclusion. When he meets a girl, Gillian (India Menuez), at a party, Adam is overcome with attraction and fails to correct one small misconception that the lifelong lesbian has about him: that he is a trans man.

Adam’s visit to New York is set in 2006, where terms like “cisgender” were just coming into popular use while the gay and trans scene was fully vibrant. Adam is completely unaware of any of its existence, and he gets to experience it from a transfixed, innocent perspective, one that threatens to become corrupted when he borders on appropriating other people’s experiences for his own personal gain. Casey goes to great lengths to correct his lack of comprehension of what it means to be trans, and posing as something that he’s definitely not gives him a window into what it’s like to feel out of sync with your body, and how, as someone who is not trans, he can’t possibly understand how it feels.

Alexander, who has done mostly television to this point, makes a terrific leading film debut with this role, making Adam equally awkward and endearing, hopeless to take charge of his life as events beyond his control force him to trade bewilderment for acceptance. The ubiquitous Qualley delivers another fine performance, and Menuez makes Gillian into a very compelling character of her own. Trans director Rhys Ernst’s vision of Ariel Schrag’s novel of the same name is an affirming, entertaining exploration of youth and how the unexpected can be extremely interesting and educational.


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