×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Alex Strangelove’

A pleasing teen comedy about losing one's virginity that tries a bit too hard to be funny.

Director:
Craig Johnson
With:
Daniel Doheny, Madeline Weinstein, Antonio Marziale, Daniel Zolghadri, Annie Q., Nik Dodani, Fred Hechinger, KE, Isabella Amara, Sophie Faulkenberry, Joanna Adler, William Ragsdale, Dante Costabile, Ayden Mayeri.
Release Date:
Jun 8, 2018

One hour 38 minutes

Funny, cute and good-natured, but also trying a bit too hard to achieve those qualities, “Alex Strangelove” is equal parts homage to the teen comedy genre and an earnestly seriocomic coming-out story. Writer-director Craig Johnson’s fourth feature is probably his best to date, hitting the target more consistently than “The Skeleton Twins” or “Wilson.” Still, his best is surely yet to come, on the day he finally relaxes a bit and prizes emotional truth over antic comedy. Nevertheless, “Strangelove” should please a fair number of viewers when it launches day and date June 8 on Netflix and in limited theatrical release.

Amiable beanpole Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny, who plays a similar character in the concurrent Canadian feature “Adventures in Public School”) is a straight-A suburban high-school senior. He’s also a confessed nerd — though hardly scorned as such, since he’s been elected class president.

His small circle of guy pals is considerably altered by the arrival of new girl Claire (Madeline Weinstein from “Beach Rats”), who’s smart and droll, and with whom he immediately clicks. The relationship inevitably evolves from platonic to otherwise, but remains chaste until the day Claire blurts out to his friends that they haven’t “done it” yet. Worse, she admits what’s holding them back is his perceived skittishness; he’d been telling himself it was the other way around. They promptly resolve to end all virginity (actually, his) with a motel-room date.

Their plan creates performance anxiety for Alex, who has a tendency to overthink things anyway. Adding to his fretfulness is new friend Elliott (Antonio Marziale), a slightly older boy he met at a party. The unmistakable attraction between the two upsets Alex’s idea of himself. Is he really gay? Bi? Whatever turns out to be the case, he’ll have a hard time keeping such worries secret, since Claire is as adept at reading him as he is neurotically self-absorbed.

Alex Strangelove” trades in real-world teenage emotions, but can’t help idealizing their context — it takes place in a universe where mildly raunchy humor and complete tolerance cohabit, where social cliques exist but no evident bullying or homophobia. Drugs and alcohol are consumed by the underage, with consequences no more serious than jokey embarrassment. Parents have their idiosyncrasies (or even possibly terminal cancer, like Claire’s mom), yet are reliably supportive. Growing up is humorously “awkward,” though this is the kind of movie in which teens spout precocious, emotionally articulate dialogue that’s more what people retroactively wish they’d thought to say as adolescents than what adolescents would actually say.

John Hughes’ beloved ’80s teen comedies are the most conspicuous among many cinematic reference points here — there’s actually an onscreen discussion about “16 Candles.” But that film was a farce of almost Preston Sturges-like snap, crackle and pop. While Johnson often encourages his nimble cast to act in a farcical mode, his jokes and comic timing aren’t so precise. The humor here is more of a stretch than it is organic, and the film has a few too many tricks up its sleeve: There are scattered animation effects (notably when Daniel Zolghadri as the protagonist’s bestie, Dell, trips on psychedelic Amazonian frog secretions) to voiceover narration to a running gag comparing human behavior to the animal kingdom, illustrated via stock footage.

None of these are necessarily bad ideas, but they feel too piled-on and premeditated to strike the desired anarchic note. “Strangelove,” like Johnson’s prior features, would be even more ingratiating if one didn’t sense it straining to please at nearly every juncture.

Nonetheless, this is a lively, resourceful and tightly paced enterprise, drawing uniformly good performances from well-cast actors. Design elements are colorful if occasionally over-busy, in an otherwise smooth tech package. All in all, it’s hard to dislike “Alex Strangelove”; one just wishes the film didn’t lean in quite so insistently to be petted.

Film Review: 'Alex Strangelove'

Reviewed at SFFilm, April 14, 2018. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: A Netflix release of a Mighty Engine presentation, in association with STX Films, of a Red Hour, Netflix Original Film production. (International sales: Netflix, Hollywood.) Producers: Ben Stiller, Nicholas Weinstock, Jared Goldman.

Crew: Director, writer: Craig Johnson. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Hillary Spera. Editor: Jennifer Lee. Music: Nathan Larson.

With: Daniel Doheny, Madeline Weinstein, Antonio Marziale, Daniel Zolghadri, Annie Q., Nik Dodani, Fred Hechinger, KE, Isabella Amara, Sophie Faulkenberry, Joanna Adler, William Ragsdale, Dante Costabile, Ayden Mayeri.

More Film

  • Anastasia Kirillova, Ru Kuwahata, Max Porter

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: Early Reviews

    'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: 'The MCU Feels More Complete'

    “Captain Marvel” is soaring following advanced press screenings on Tuesday. Reactions from early showings have hit Twitter, and audiences are keen on Marvel’s first female-led standalone movie. Critics are praising Brie Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, the nostalgic ’90s setting, and the cosmic sci-fi elements. Goose, Danvers’ cat, is also getting a lot of attention from [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Flying to $40 Million-Plus Debut

    Universal and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” will soar to the top of the domestic box office when it debuts this weekend in over 4,000 North American theaters. The studio anticipates an opening around $40 million, which would fall just short of the debut of its predecessors, 2010’s “How to Train [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content