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Sundance Review: ‘Adam’ is a comedy that shines with authenticity

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

There are many boy meets girl films out there, but there are none as unique and fresh as Rhys Ernst’s Adam. Ernst’s first feature film is a heartfelt comedy that challenges viewers to think outside of their comfort zones and to live their truths. Adam is a rare film that provides a showcase for LGBT talent from every spectrum, and is an exciting addition to the comedy genre. Prior to his feature debut, Ernst served as a producer on Amazon’s Transparent, and as director for the season four finale. Ernst’s filmography also includes the Emmy-nominated mini docuseries This Is Me, and short films such as She Gone Rogue, and The Thing. Not his first time at Sundance, Ernst brings something exciting to this year’s lineup. Adam is a film that is something to look forward to this year.

Based on Ariel Schrag’s book of the same name, Adam is the story of a teenage boy who spends a summer in New York for the sake of “cultural enrichment.” Taken in by his sister Casey (Margaret Qualley) and her roommate June (Chloe Levine), Adam (Nicholas Alexander) is thrust into a world he isn’t familiar with. Away from home, Casey is an out and proud lesbian who is heavily involved on the LGBT activist scene. However, Casey’s activism often follows the beat of her friends and various love interests, much to June’s dismay. During the duration of his stay, Adam bonds with Casey’s sweet and encouraging roommate Ethan (Leo Sheng).

Shy, awkward, and without a life of his own, Adam accompanies Casey to various events across New York. Eager to find a girlfriend, Adam becomes enamored with a young woman he meets at a marriage equality party. Upon meeting Adam, Gillian (India Menuez) assumes that Adam is a trans man. Desperate for Gillian’s attention and affection, Adam maintains a baffling charade to keep the relationship going. Unknowing of Adam’s ruse, Ethan aids Adam in his quest to “get the girl.” Jillian and Adam develop a serious relationship which prompts Adam to educate himself on the trans community.

During his summer in New York, Adam learns some hard lessons about love, life, and friendship. His romance founded on untruth lends itself to some sticky situations, and forces some introspection. A period piece set in 2006, Adam unlearns some of the terminology of today and dials it back a few years. Even though the time period isn’t all that long ago, many proper descriptors weren’t in the mainstream consciousness. Over the course of a summer, Adam evaluates some of his biases and misconceptions about the LGBT community, the trans community especially.

An incredible ensemble of performers of all identities, Adam is filled with authentic, emotional performances from all of its cast members, especially its leads. Nicholas Alexander shines as the main protagonist and brings forth a naivety and likability to his role. Having previously starred primarily in television roles, Alexander shows that he can carry a film. I’m hoping to see more of him in the future. In Margaret Qualley’s career, she has made some bold, and rewarding choices in prior Sundance films such as Novitiate, and this year’s Native Son. Adam is another film where she brings something fun and exciting to the table. In his very first screen appearance, Leo Sheng charms audiences with his performance as Ethan. In the film, there is also an appearance by Mj Rodriguez, who makes an impactful statement during her brief screen time.

On paper, the premise of Adam seems outlandish and difficult to pull off. The film could very well go awry in the wrong hands, but Ernst treats the subject matter with the utmost care. Along with screenwriter and novel author Ariel Schrag, Ernst manages to create a balance between the raunchy and charming at the same time. It’s a feel good film, but in the most unexpected way. It speaks to our desires to belong, and the journey to discovering and being who we really are. We need more of those films.