Alex Strangelove ***
Starring: Daniel Doheny, Madeline Weinstein, Antonio Marziale, Daniel Zolghadri
Director: Craig Johnson
Love, Simon was by no means a unique film. A teen comedy about finding love and finding identity, there have been multiple other LGBT films similar to it in the past, but what makes it a stand-out is just how well-written it is. Its hilarious script and fantastic plot means that it can compete with Mean Girls and Clueless and Easy A for the title of the Greatest Teen Comedy Of All Time; something that should really be trumpeted for LGBT cinema this year. And, as you’d expect in the wake of such a success, there will always come copycats afterwards. Alex Strangelove is exactly one of these films.
Alex Truelove (Doheny) – and it’s never actually explained why the film has taken on the name of Kubrick’s ex-Nazi comedy psychopath – is in his final year of high school. He’s a geek and has found his perfect partner in Claire (Weinstein) with whom he can geek out about all the wonders of the natural world on their YouTube channel and everything seems to be going hunky-dory… or at least until she challenges him on why he doesn’t want to have sex with her. And as if on cue, in waltzes Elliot (Marzale), the sexy high school graduate who throws a big fat spanner in the works as Alex realises he might actually fancy him as well.
The film revolves around Doheny’s performance as Alex; the young, sexually confused high school virgin, who completely owns his geekiness and manages to be himself, despite peer pressure from his friends. He’s a thoroughly twenty-first century everyman whose flaws are intended to make us root for him every step of the way, except there’s something about his doe-eyed, floppy-haired naivety that makes him more irritating than relatable and makes us root far more for Claire than for him. And the fault for that lies in the hands of the script, which is clearly aiming to be a comedy but failing to deliver on its promise entirely.
As a teen Drama, this coming of age story does kinda work, but as a comedy it falls flat on its face. The script pendulums between ridiculousness and inanity; one minute Alex is earnestly brow-beating over his feelings and the next his friends are hallucinating after licking an exotic toad and being harassed by a yodelling garden hose. Alex’s friends are clearly there for some light comic relief, but as they head in the preposterous direction of American Pie style high jinx, it feels like we’re watching an entirely different movie. Alex is clearly intended to be a rounded, complex human being, while his squad are little more than sex-obsessed hormone-driven dweebs. Their friendship, or existence in the same film, is perplexing.
What makes Love, Simon a refreshing film also was that it is a teen comedy about sexuality but doesn’t include any kind of “coming to terms” with being gay. It is a romance, pure and simple. Alex Strangelove does the exact opposite however and while we do want him to have a happy ending, we can’t help but feel sorry for the poor girl who he uses and abuses along the way. This is about Alex’s sexual identity first and foremost, with the romance coming second. Alex’s actions in the final scene make this all the more apparent, but also makes both Claire and Elliot seem remarkably tolerant of what is essentially someone being incredibly indecisive. And if, like me, you watch it thinking “this is actually quite an interesting rare depiction of bisexuality on screen”, then trust me, you’re going to be sorely disappointed too.
I know that it’s unfair to pit Alex Strangelove against Love, Simon as though it’s a death match (or lip-sync battle), but its Netflix release so soon after the bigger film, its marketing and even content (do all teen comedies now need to be self-referential of their genre – is that a thing now?) are so similar that it makes it impossible not to. As Netflix Sunday afternoon sofa-coma fluff goes, this is like a nice glass of cool lemonade; the problem is, Love, Simon is more like a strawberry daiquiri, decorated with an umbrella AND a sparkler.
OUT NOW ON NETFLIX.