Alex Strangelove, a new movie on Netflix, is an ode to classic high school coming-of-age movies. As with so many high-school rom-coms, the main character is the most subdued in of a group of goofy friends, is caught in a love triangle, and has parents that don't make him keep the bedroom door open when he has "guests" over. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Alex Strangelove’s director, Craig Johnson, admitted that John Hughes’ footprints are all over his rowdy comedy, from the structure to the synth vibes of the soundtrack.
Despite following a similar narrative rhythm to masterpieces like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, Alex Strangelove is distinguished from practically every teen movie that came before it in one significant regard. Alex Strangelove isn’t about a cross-clique romance or mean girls and their prey — it’s about a young man earnestly exploring the full spectrum of his sexuality.
Like many 17-year-olds, Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), the endearingly awkward protagonist of Alex Strangelove, doesn’t quite know what he wants, romantically or otherwise — but especially romantically. Alex seems to have found his ideal mate in his classmate Claire (Madeline Weinstein). They host a quirky YouTube channel about their peers’ dating rituals, and they show up to school dances in elaborate and coordinated costumes. She’s the perfect girlfriend. But, as Alex realizes when he meets a boy named Elliot (Antonio Marziale) at a party, she’s not quite right. Alex feels for Elliot what can’t quite conjure up for Claire: sexual attraction.
Alex spends the majority of the movie in a state of inner — and occasionally drug-induced — turmoil. He vacillates between wanting to stay with his girlfriend and to follow his gut (or, since Alex Strangelove is delightfully raunchy, his crotch). By the movie’s end, Alex crosses the final hurdle of a coming-of-age movie: self-revelation on the dance floor at prom.
In 2018, Alex Strangelove, which is ultimately a sweet coming-out meets coming-of-age story, isn’t revolutionary — and that’s revolutionary in itself. The movie is garnering obvious comparisons to April's Love, Simon, the first major motion picture in the “gay teen romance” genre. Like Alex Strangelove, Love, Simon centers on a young teenager’s journey to come out. Currently, the Love, Simon and budding Alex Strangelove fandoms are arguing on Twitter about the superiority of their favorite movie.
The movies are sweet and light — but they’re also essential. There’s a touching meta-moment in Alex Strangelove. While her relationship with Alex is experiencing tremors (you know, the sexual exploration thing), Claire and her mother watch the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles for comfort. For a teenage girl feeling as romantically forlorn as Claire, there are myriad movies that she can turn to for direct emotional correlation, including Sixteen Candles, and she sees a version of herself reflected back to her in Molly Ringwald's protagonist Samantha. Like many straight teenage girls before her, Claire latches onto the idea of a Sixteen Candles “Jake” as the ideal romantic partner (even though her older and wiser mother reminds her she’s too smart for him).
Now that the “gay teen rom-com” subgenre is exploding with life, gay kids like Alex and Simon have Sixteen Candles of their own. However, these movies may be striving to appeal to a straight audience that may not be actually be ready for a no-holds barred gay teen romance. Far more screen time in Alex Strangelove is devoted to Alex’s sexual fumblings with two girls than with Elliot.
Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon are similar — but perhaps their similarities are too obvious. Both movies center on upper middle class gay white boys who face few consequences when they come out. For future installments in the coming-out coming-of-age story parade, I’d like to see more stories about queer kids of color, trans kids, and bisexual kids in addition to the ones that are already out there, like Pariah and Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight.
Alex Strangelove concludes with multiple coming out stories from men and women of all races playing concurrently. Now, let’s fill it varied stories as varied as Alex Strangelove’s final moments.