John Hughes would have been proud of this film.
I was pleasantly surprised with the movie Love, Simon which came out a few months ago. It’s for a new generation, a younger one who missed the John Hughes teen movement, one that didn’t pander to young Gen-Xers, but made their off-beat struggles an intrinsic part of the narrative.
If Love Simon nailed the nostalgia of the angsty 80’s then the new Netflix Original gay teen rom-com Alex Strangelove hammers it home, but also adds a pinch of Farrelly Brothers' raunchiness. And the good news is it all works.
High School senior Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) has it all; good looks, a great family life, and the perfect girlfriend. But there is one thing he wishes he didn’t have; his virginity, and he plans to lose it with his girlfriend Claire (Madeline Weinstein) just as soon as possible. It’s what any straight American teenager wants just before he heads to college. Right? You may have noticed the title of the movie is different than the name of the character and that clue is key to the conflict.
You see even though Alex is eager to consummate his relationship, there's something amiss. He can't quite put his finger on it, it's strange, but as soon as he and Claire get close to doing "it" something happens and the mood goes south. Enter handsome classmate Elliot (Antonio Marziale) an openly gay student who has a slight crush on Alex and suspects he might be questioning.
Indeed Alex is confused and thinks at first he's bisexual before contemplating he's attracted solely to men. His straight best friend Dell (Daniel Zolghadri) tries his best to convince Alex that he likes girls, even going so far as to expose himself, making Alex look at his genitalia to see if he gets aroused. Alex isn't, but that's only because he's not attracted to Dell. Yet, he can't stop thinking about Elliot and to make matters worse Claire is eager to make love herself. Ah, millennials!
Writer and director Craig Johnson has a special kind of love for teen romps and in Alex Strangelove he holds them all in great regard. From "Porky's" to "Better off Dead" to "Sixteen Candles" and even "Hall Pass," Johnson has created a love letter and homage to the romantic comedy. There's even a pivotal scene which references "Harold and Maude," he's got everything covered.
His cast is excellent, each play their roles with heart and humor, not one of them taking the material for granted. Some real stars are being born here.
Madeline Weinstein as Clair is a twist on the teenage trope, she's smart, faithful and level-headed, but still wants to get laid. She's also vulnerable. In one scene Weinstein's pain is expressed without having to deliver a single line of dialogue, now that's acting.
Antonio Marziale as Elliot is also great, the matter-of-fact nature of his sexuality proves that Hollywood has come a little further in its portrayals of gay men.
But the star of the show is the handsome Daniel Doheny who puts a conservative veneer over Alex, but still manages to give glimpses of his hidden personality; his true self. The closeted teen's emergence into self-acceptance is relatable and only proves that casting agents made the right choice.
Strangelove isn't perfect. There's some heavy-handedness to the gross-out comedy bits that feel cut and pasted into the script rather than organic. A certain scene with a den of animated gummy worms is a colorful example. You will still laugh, but thankfully there are only a few of those throwaway moments leaving the rest of the film heartfelt and honest.
Alex Strangelove with all of its teen romp homages and blue humor is best when it focuses in on the lead's identity crises, never letting the fact that he's gay become the punchline, rather it explores the world of questioning teens who live life to the best of their adolescent ability creating some real wreckage in their wake.
The film is funny, refreshingly genuine, and ends with a prom; how much more Hughes-esque can you get?
Alex Strangelove premieres on Netflix June 8, 2018.