After delivering a series of awful originals this year, which include The Cloverfield Paradox, Mute, and The Kissing Booth, Netflix finally delivers with Alex Strangelove. A touching film that hits familiar John Hughes-esque territory, but delivers a raunchy, comedic and heartwarming story of self-discovery.
The film follows type-A nerd Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), as he navigates the “savage kingdom that is the modern American high school.” He meets Claire (Madeline Weinstein) and they become best friends, start their own web series, and eventually, they start dating. This is where the familiar “You’ll be the laughing stock of the school if you don’t lose your virginity!!” flashbacks kick in, and just like every teenager, Alex is going through the same pressure. But things get complicated when Alex meets the charismatic, gay Elliot (Antonio Marziale), who sends Alex down a rollercoaster of sexual discovery and acceptance.
Director Craig Johnson delivers a light-hearted story reflective of what it’s like to be a teenager in our ever-changing society, and actor Daniel Doheny is charming as Alex and portrays perfectly what it’s like for a gay teen to drown in his own confusion. The film hits familiar territory, but is less polished than most with its sex-obsessed narrative rarely seen in film and TV. Madeline Weinstein is fantastic in her role as Claire, a similar role to the one she played in last year’s Beach Rats, but she keeps it fresh. Comparisons to this year’s outstanding Love, Simon are inevitable, and understandably so, but while it’s accurate to describe Simon’s story as superior, writing an article comparing the two wouldn’t be right as no one coming out experience is the same. Both films hold their importance as a story told for the community they both represent.
However, there is a lot to be said about Alex Strangelove‘s gay representation. It stomps on everything heterosexuals say about LGBT. For example, in the scene where Claire asks Alex if he’s just going through a phase or Alex’s cishet friend who complains about everyone coming out, there being too many different sexualities, and asking “Why can’t anyone just be straight!?“ The film addresses all the comments that LGBT youth/adults hear every day, but, on the heels of Love, Simon, Johnson’s film could have delivered something more.
While it’s an upbeat and entertaining story, Alex Strangelove would have been better if it had stuck with Alex’s initial thought of being bisexual–an exciting and refreshing prospect that is quickly disbanded. Or, the screenwriters could have used Alex’s inability to enjoy sex with Claire to signify his character’s asexuality, something the media shoves under the rug but is a reality for many. Gay white male characters have helped pave the way for representation, but it’s time for them to either step aside for stories about LGBT people of colour or begin to represent another letter in the initialism.