“Alex Strangelove” Wants Audiences to Love Simon All over Again

Alex Strangelove is a feel-good coming out story for questioning teens trying to navigate same-sex attraction. The film, which bowed Friday on Netflix, is right out of the After-School Special mold of “here’s how hard coming out can be.”

And darn it all to heck, it’s ruff, dude! In director Craig Johnson’s übercute — and semi-autobiographical — Alex Strangelove, the title character (played by Daniel Doheny) is class president, upper middle class, is a popular kid with a witty and pretty girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein), and gee, they just can’t wait to sex each other up.

So, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no one right way to come out, and it is absolutely true that no matter your experience, you should always write what you know. So if Alex Strangelove approximates Johnson’s own story, there’s no reason to quibble or try to delegitimize it. That said, it’s startlingly similar in tone to last year’s Love, Simon. And if you go into virtually any gay bar in America, it’s fairly certain you’ll see a greater diversity in the patrons than exists in these two bookend films.

Alex Truelove (the title is meant to suggest how odd the twists and turns of sexual awakening these days) and his galpal Claire might have made it all the way through their awkward coupling phase to more closely resemble an adult heterosexual pair — if only Alex hadn’t accidentally run into Elliot (the guilelessly charming Antonio Marziale), who’s not only a year older, but completely out of the closet and with a gaydar that tags Alex as a closet case nearly from jump street.

The movie really runs on two tracks; one is Alex attempt to convince himself and everyone around him (there’s a great little performance from Daniel Zolghardi as Alex’ motormouthed confidant Dell) that he’s hetero, just not a horndog. The other, given sadly short shrift, is Alex’ budding crush on Elliot, who’s clearly just as smitten and not afraid to show it.

Thinking back on Hollywood history, it’s rare to show people falling in love and have that be enough without some complication thrown in to raise the stakes. LGBTQ stories almost invariably lean on coming out as that monkey wrench in the works. Okay. But when do we get something like what Claire references in describing John Hughes’ 1984 breakthrough comedy, Sixteen Candles? Boy meets boy. Doesn’t think they’re in the same league. Hilarity and hijinks ensue, and viola! They kiss like they were meant to be together from the start.

That would be a milestone on its own. Until then, kids questioning teens can be grateful for Alex Strangelove in the same way that others are grateful for a Wonder Woman or Black Panther. There are many more stories to tell, but at least they’re finally being told.

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Kevin Phinney

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