Trans Substantiate: Ernst Turns Back Time in Sincere, Flawed Trans Rom-Com
“Lying is stupid and lonely,” says Margaret Qualley, a wearied queer woman towards the end of Rhys Ernst’s debut, Adam, a period piece on trans activism set in 2006 New York. Eloquence, however, is nowhere to be found in this arguably anachronistic exercise which favors a whiny pitch in its attempt to speak truth to power. Well-intentioned and packed to the gills with conversation starters on queer and gender identity defined and hobbled through heteronormative lenses, Ernst (a producer on Amazon’s celebrated series “Transparent”) attempts to launch a coming-of-age romantic comedy built on familiar role reversal revelations through a YA lens.
Adapted from Ariel Schrag’s 2014 novel, this Sundance debuted effort is a hipster glinted indie satire, which stumbles into self-parody. Nicholas Alexander does what he can with a problematic scenario as the titular lead (is it a biblical allusion?), but Schrag’s script hobbles the narrative’s good will, which focuses on a white cis teen who romances Bobbi Salvor Menuez’s Gillian (the film’s only character who isn’t either a shrill mouthpiece or a narcissistic, self-centered sycophant), a slightly older lesbian who mistakes him for a trans man, a stipulation which allows her to contemplate a relationship.
Reviewed on July 21st at the 2019 Outfest Film Festival – US Centerpiece. 95 Mins.
Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.