Movie Review - Alex Strangelove
It might be unfair to compare Johnson's film to Berlanti's because Berlanti's film is a book adaptation, whereas Johnson's is an original screenplay. Berlanti and his writers were perhaps beholden or wanted to be faithful to the book and its author, regardless of her having no real clue what it's like to be gay. That's what both movies are about. They're both about what it's like to be a gay male teen. Now, both Johnson and Berlanti are openly gay men. Johnson is younger and again isn't hamstrung by a book that has other things on its mind than being an authentic look at a gay teen's experience, so I think Johnson has the advantage.
Daniel Doheny stars as Alex Truelove, the student-body president at Buchanan High School, somewhere in the suburbs of New York City. When he graduates, he hopes to go to Columbia University and major in marine biology. He's dorky, a self-described wildlife nerd. He's a good-looking kid but he's a bit tall and lanky.
Like Simon in Love, Simon, Alex has a good social group around him. Where he differs from Simon is that Alex also has a girlfriend. At the beginning of this film, Alex hasn't yet realized or admitted his same-sex attraction. Simon, however, knows he's gay from the jump, but he remains closeted. Yet, Simon has no good reason to stay in the closet. Thankfully, Johnson does give Alex a good reason, or good reasons if you count the fact that for some gay men, the realization can just come later in life, post-puberty, if not way later. Simon's realization came pre-puberty.
Madeline Weinstein co-stars as Claire, the aforementioned girlfriend of Alex. She's a bit of a wildlife nerd too, which is how she and Alex bonded. They met in video production class. When she's not hanging out in the local aquarium, she likes making YouTube videos. She also likes theater kids. She's equally funny and charming. She gets along great with Alex. There's only one hiccup.
Alex and Claire have been together for nearly a year if not longer and the two haven't had sex. The reason why is obvious, but Alex needs to explore and question his own feelings or what he wants. Even if this film weren't about homosexuality, it still works as a comedy about the awkward coupling that teenage sex can be. In that awkwardness, there's a lot of comedy here, better comedy than in Love, Simon.
One last note is that Madeline Weinstein was in a film last year called Beach Rats (2017). In that film, she also played the girlfriend of a gay teenager. This movie gives her more to do and isn't only from the point-of-view of the gay teen, the boy in both examples. This movie gives her perspective and lets us walk in her shoes. That restricted P.O.V. isn't a bad thing, but it's simply nicer to see multiple points of view here in what feels like a more genuine teen story.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
Available on Netflix.