Netflix’s ‘Alex Strangelove’ Explores Coming out in High School
The more things change; the more they remain the same. It can be argued that this holds true for “Alex Strangelove,” a high school comedy/romance from Netflix. For decades, or at least since the movies of John Hughes, high school movies have roughly followed similar formulas with similar results. This is until a film comes along that adds just enough new insights to turn those formulas on their head. “Alex Strangelove,” in a similar vein of this year’s gay romance “Love, Simon,” does that.
Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) is the popular study body president of his high school. He is neither jock nor nerd, but unassuming and loyal to his handful of unexceptional friends. Alex and Claire (Madeline Weinstein) are an item and have been since ninth grade. Claire is kind, bright, and effervescent, a perfect match for the bumbling, sweetly earnest and true blue Alex. They become video production partners early on. Their shared interest is reflected in the regular web series they produce together and the costumes from classic movies they wear to all the school dances, including the Homecoming Dance where they are crowned King and Queen. For close to four straight years they have done practically everything together. Except are yet to have sex. Claire is not one to push, but the same can’t be said for Alex’s posse of friends. Bowing to pressure, Alex and Claire set the date and reserve the motel room. It is at this moment that Eliot (Antonio Marziale) appears on the scene. Eliot is a year older, a bit of a rebel with a cooler bedroom, and is gay. There might after all be a reason Alex has put off sex with Claire all these years.
Recently Entertainment Voice sat down with Daniel Doheny and Antonio Marziale to get their insights about getting their first big break starring in “Alex Strangelove” and what it means to introduce LGBT issues into what is by all standards a delightful High School romantic comedy.
Daniel Doheny, a young actor from Vancouver, gives the director and writer Craig Johnson as the reason for the success of the movie.
“Craig Johnson drew me to this film. He’s such a good writer.”
“Craig Johnson is the perfect answer. He’s a great director. His writing is so specific. You knew exactly who the characters are. I was inspired by many of the same things Craig was inspired by growing up”
The danger with any film that might be perceived as a message movie about inclusion or racism or LGBT issues is the possibility that the story itself becomes didactic and heavy handed. This is never the case with “Alex Strangelove”. The casting of its leads played a big role in making that work.
Antonio addressed the reasons they were cast. “We’re both really grateful to Craig that he cast us in this movie. He could’ve cast someone with two million Instagram followers for example. But he cast people he thought were right for the role.”
Daniel who had previously acted with Antonio in an episode of “Supernatural” added, “Again I think that’s Craig’s sensibility coming through. He wanted to make a movie about people. He didn’t want to make a movie about super hot actors. He wanted to make it about real people.”
“We’re not saleable names,” said Antonio. “It was an open call for the number one spot on the call sheet and that never happens. It’s rare for studios not to cast names because they want that box office draw. This was such a great opportunity for me being my first movie. But we’re not Hollywood hot. We look like human beings.”
“Except for Maddie (Madeline Weinstein),” stressed Daniel. “Maddie’s like 1940’s Film Noir timeless beauty.”
Antonio continued, “The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s goofy and it doesn’t feel cool. A lot of cool movies are unapproachable and make you feel bad about yourself – make me feel bad about myself. It’s not one of those movies where everyone’s super hot and kind of disconnected. We’re not afraid to be goofy.”
One of the most appealing moments in the film happens just before the end credits when web-type clips of real teenagers celebrating their own coming out appear in rapid succession eventually forming a montage on the screen.
When asked how that came about, Antonio shared, “I think they reached out to a lot of people with coming out videos and said, ‘Hey, can we use your video in our film?”
He continued, “I think it’s really exciting and it brings the film full circle. It just reminds us of the universal picture. We have (in the film) an exciting experience going on through one person’s journey. Not only is it just one person’s journey but there’s loads of other people with the same journey. And the videos than have an impact because they are so truthful.”
Daniel chimed in, “ I think that why it works is because we follow one person’s honest real journey and in the end we see how it umbrellas and butterfly’s into real life. If you weren’t into the first story initially, it would seem sort of cheesy. But because it deals with the story of Alex so honestly, it feels like it has weight. It feels earned. The movie really is a celebration.”
Antonio added some final thoughts. “I hope people see themselves in it. Especially for LGBT people, there’s such a lack of representation in films. When you see yourself, it feels good. That puts a lot of pressure on the film that I don’t think people put on films that aren’t LGBT. We deserve to have a film that that’s fun and silly.”
“A lot of films have changed my life,” added Daniel, “that don’t necessarily have a social or political meaning. It happens just by watching characters unfold in front of you.”
Antonio summed up the experience of making “Alex Strangelove” for him and the others.
“We had a great experience (making the film) but the film’s also amazing and that’s like the cherry on top. For me, Daniel and Maddie, it was the best experience ever.”
“It’s an ode to a lot of movies like “Footloose” and “Sixteen Candles.” LGBT people deserve a film that represents them. It’s a format that’s been seen before but with a really new take on it.”
“Alex Strangelove” begins streaming June 8 on Netflix.