Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Rhys Ernst
scr Ariel Schrag
prd Howard Gertler, James Schamus
with Nicholas Alexander, Bobbi Salvor Menuez, Margaret Qualley, Leo Sheng, Chloe Levine, Colton Ryan, Dana Aliya Levinson, Maxton Miles Baeza, Ana Gasteyer, Mj Rodriguez, Alisha B Woods, Jari Jones
release US 16.Aug.19
19/US 1h36

qualley gasteyer rodriguez

alexander and menuez
Taking a gently earthy approach to a complex subject, this drama could hardly help but spark controversy. Director Rhys Ernst puts a spin on the script (written by criticised novelist Ariel Schrag), populating the film with actors and characters who just happen to be trans while exploring issues from unexpected angles. This adds important textures to a provocative premise, forcing the audience to confront the truth.
In the summer of 2006, 17-year-old Adam (Alexander) visits his sister Casey (Qualley) in New York, where her queer culture and trans friends are new to him. At a party he meets Gillian (Menuez), claiming to be 20 and, when she assumes that he's trans, going deeper into the lie. But Gillian is a lesbian, so his deception has serious repercussions that he naively fails to take into account. This also affects friendships with Casey's flatmates Ethan and June (Levine and Sheng), as well as his school pal Brad (Ryan), who pays a surprise visit.
Frankly, Adam is an idiot, and he's called out for it multiple times even as the script lets him do some deeply incorrect things along the way. But he's not a bad guy, and the story follows his coming-of-age with a rare willingness to travel in some darkly challenging directions. The point is that Adam needs to learn about both himself and the world around him. And he also needs to understand that he's wrongfully appropriating identities.

Alexander approaches the role with clumsy nervous energy and unnerving authenticity, remaining likeable even as Adam makes very bad decisions like going to a women-only sex club. He and the relaxed, soft-spoken Menuez create some genuinely engaging chemistry, which makes Adam's misrepresentation even more problematic, especially in sexual encounters that mean something different for him than for her. Where their relationship goes is tough and realistic, forcing each to grapple with who they are and what they want.

The film offers a bold perspective on how it feels to be outside mainstream society, seeking a community of like-minded people. So it's unsurprising that some viewers are offended by Adam's missteps. The film's pivotal moment is at a trans camp, where Casey decides she has to be more honest and Adam encounters the bigger issues head-on. "I am the loose thread that unravels the gender of everyone around me," Rodriguez tells the group. "And I am going to pull and pull until they see that they're merely wearing the emperor's new clothes."

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs 20.Aug.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall