Alex Strangelove

Alex Strangelove (2018)

“Sometimes you have to alter the game plan.”

Alex is your typical teenager.  He has his group of friends, his place in high school figured out, and he has a girlfriend.  He’s got typical plans – lose his virginity, go to college, get married, have kids.  But that plan is changed when he meets Elliot and he starts to wonder what he really wants and if he has it within himself to change everything.

When the film began I started thinking about American Pie.  The theme of losing one’s virginity as a right of passage, the teenage awkwardness – took me back almost the 20 years now to the classic virginity-losing film. (Twenty years? Really?)

But this is quite the update, and thankfully there is no pact between friends.  In this case, it’s all about Alex and what’s going on with him.  Besides, it appears that all his friends have already been there and done that.  It’s interesting though to see the coming of age story getting updated every few years to include all the modern attributes of teenage life.  We’re not passing paper messages anymore.  

One of the first scenes that really seems to make Alex start questioning his reality is when he goes to a party and meets Elliot.  Somehow they end up getting high together and laying in bed together, face to face, talking about life. Its clear that Elliot is flirting with Alex, and I think it’s very telling that when Claire comes in that she’s introduced as his friend.  It’s as if Alex wants to continue the charade with Elliot to see where it leads.

This brings me to what I’ve seen referred to as “collateral damage.”  Claire goes along for this journey somewhat unaware of the internal struggle that Alex is going through.  But she is certainly aware of the heartbreak she feels when Alex is unable to return the same feelings.  Stories like this still exist, and it’s difficult to see how one person’s journey to a truth breaks someone else’s heart.

Craig Johnson, the writer and director, said in an interview with NPR, he “wanted to honor that relationship between Alex and Claire, and I wanted to see it from Claire’s perspective. I wanted to see the heartbreak. I wanted to see the crappiness of it and kind of the inevitability of it but then also how you deal.” (NPR, 2018)  It’s never just about one person’s journey, but also how it affects the people around them.

One of the best scenes is a heartfelt scene when Alex and Claire have a very honest, truthful discussion about their relationship and some of the whys behind what happened.  It was well-done, well-acted, and close to reality.

There were some other parts of the movie that were just there for the comedy, and while some things seemed superfluous to the main part of the film, other parts were amusing.  I had to laugh when the gummy worms beckoned “Eat Us!”

Alex Stangelove is a modern update to the coming of age film that is funny and worthwhile.  Much of the same story has been told over the past few decades, but each growing up timeframe has been a little different.  What’s interesting is that many of the same themes still occur and continue to push the narrative even though the circumstances they exist in change over time.

Availability: Netflix


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