Posted by Apoorva Jain
queer, cisgender female
We give it 2 rainbows out of five!
The netflix gay teen romance film, ‘Alex Strangelove’ is an interesting film to say the least. It is a plausible attempt to show the high school romance of a boy, slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) is a likable boy-next door, who can win the senior-class presidency without being a jock or a jerk. He cares about his grades, hangs out with his goofball friends and loves and cares for his girlfriend, Claire (Madeline Weinstein).
Just when Alex thinks his relationship with Claire couldn’t be any better, he finds himself holding back from taking the next step with her and meanwhile finds himself being attracted towards Elliott (Antonio Marziale), a curly-haired dreamboat with a Moonlight poster in his bedroom and a B-52s obsession he wears as easily as his out status. Though his classmates toss around words like poly and trans with the blithe self-assurance of a gender-studies major at Bryn Mawr — and repeatedly make it clear that they’re cool with whatever way his heart swings — Alex balks at the idea that he might be anything less than straight. What if he isn’t? What about his girlfriend?
The film offers a fresh peek into the average gay teen’s life and what it means to a closeted member of the Gen Z: the “queerest and most accepting of them all.” It attempts to show what one goes through and how painful the process of coming out can be.
However, while the story carries enough information to take forth that pursuit, the movie itself fails to express and seems messy to say the least. It has too many distractions, with not enough cleanups and the plot itself runs the risk of reinforcing stereotypes associated with the LGBTQ community, particularly gay men.
The movie’s understanding of sexuality is pretty flawed and lacking research. For instance, Alex’s best friend Dell (Daniel Zolghadri), has the kind of rant your racist uncle might go on about how no one is just a boy or a girl, or straight anymore. Dell’s character itself feels as severely underdeveloped as his subplot. He is meant to be a beloved sidekick but is mostly saddled with problematic behavior, from flashing Alex in an attempt to prove his is straight to harassing a gender nonconforming kid for no discernable reason. While the self-exposure can be credited to the film’s surreal undertones the poor execution turned it into something plainly distasteful.
The other characters in the film seem lazily written as well. Although Alex, Claire and Elliott feel like real human beings, many of the supporting players come across like jokes or caricatures of toxic stereotypes. Incidental characters like Sierra (Sophie Faulkenberry) and Dakota (Dante Costabile) seem to have absolutely nothing to add to the story except for dry humour that might just squeeze a mindless chuckle out of you with an ‘A’ for attempt. The characters of Sophie Hicks (Annie Q.), Hilary (Ayden Mayeri), Blake (Nik Dodani) and Josh (Fred Hechinger) also seem to add little to no value to the story, with vague subplots that end up being distractions to the main storyline instead.
The movie seems to be structured to make Alex’s sexuality a surprise or a reveal. But Alex Strangelove sacrifices a better connection to its lead in order to do so. The movie’s ending leaves a lot of loose ends. The tension with his parents, particularly his father, remains unresolved, and there is never even a scene where he comes out to them or chooses to keep that part of his life a secret. It asks more questions than it answers and instead of adding edge, it just leaves it too rough on the edges.
Despite its flaws, the film has its moments of beauty, it succeeds in capturing the gleeful highschool romance of Elliot and Alex. Whether it would be their dates, first kiss or prom, the strange bittersweet dreaminess of the moment is well-expressed. There’s a tossed-off moment that’s truly, heartbreakingly beautiful when Alex catches sight of a slightly older gay couple, comfortable their own skin, and relates the couple to himself and Elliott. In a fleeting image, Johnson captures what it’s like to be on a sexual-emotional cusp, projecting your subconscious hopes and desires onto those around you. Whenever Alex Strangelove treads into these choppy waters (which is often enough), it feels radical and when the movie ends with showing us actual videos of people’s coming out moments, you can’t help but admire the honesty, leaving you with a tiny tingle in the belly.