Craig Johnson (director/co-writer of The Skeleton Twins) returns with another sweet story about solving personal ambiguity with wonder, caution, and experience in Netflix’s Alex Strangelove. This time, the angst takes place in high school, as Johnson evolves the “teen sex comedy” sub-genre with positive (and current) messages of sexual orientation.
Anticipating their post-secondary careers but confused about their own relationship, dorky lovebirds Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) and Claire (Madeline Weinstein) are determined to lose their virginity. They’re both puzzled about why they’ve waited so long considering how comfortable they are, how in love they are with each other, and how respectful they’ve been of their partner’s boundaries. They mutually agree to take the plunge by setting a deflowering date; even going so far as booking a romantic destination (a local low-rent motel that’s been dipped in several shades of brown). As excited as Alex is, he can’t help but feel emotional knots. Ever since his house party run-in with Elliot, a confident and openly gay friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, he experiences indescribable and nerve-wracking feelings that suggest he might, in fact, have different romantic desires. His emotional struggle becomes more confusing since his attraction for Claire hasn’t wavered.
Craig Johnson treats the coming-of-age premise as a juvenile comedy until the film sheds its skin and reveals true conflicts and rounded characters. For instance, Alex’s best friend Dell (Daniel Zolghadri) would usually be summoned for horny comic relief in other teen comedies, but Dell ends up giving the film’s most thoughtful and honest advice. Daniel Doheny plays the title character with equal intelligence. The budding actor may be playing a similar quirky teen as he did in this year’s Adventures in Public School but, as a clever actor does, Doheny finds the differences in his latest good-natured dweeb that allows him to flex his acting chops and resist typecasting.
Alex Strangelove features the usual cheekiness that Netflix can somehow get away with in a movie geared towards a younger crowd. But, other than some scenes of wild partying, nothing is disposable in Alex Strangelove.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie