Craig Johnson has never matched 2014’s The Skeleton Twins, and Alex Strangelove doesn’t change that. It’s an affable entry to the high school movie genre, and squeezes in several pleasant surprises alongside more derivative elements. Allusions to Kubrick are on odd move in a film that’s more Love, Simon than loving the bomb, but are symptomatic of Johnson’s idiosyncratically broad pool of pop-culture references. They also prove a handy shortcut for fleshing out characters.
Strangelove boasts the enviable combination of a zingy script and slick editing – much attempted but rarely well executed. Aping of David Attenborough’s unmistakable narration style in an introduction of Alex’s high school, though, borrows obviously and heavily from Tina Fey’s “jungle madness” analogy in Mean Girls.
Johnson’s determination to be ultra-contemporary doesn’t always pay off. Discussion of polyamory renders it a trend rather than a relationship preference, but hats off to the music supervisor for featuring MUNA – a fitting band for the film’s open-minded ethos.
Despite blunders such as cheesy, subpar and utterly superfluous special effects (particularly an unnecessary and unoriginal puke joke), Strangelove remains highly watchable due to the chemistry between leads Daniel Doheny and Madeline Weinstein. After turning heads in Beach Rats, Weinstein is having a great couple of years. She has similar sass and oddball wit to Zosia Mamet, but is both a less affected and more affecting performer.
Strangelove suffers a serious quality dip in the final act, with Johnson surrendering to Alex’s self-obsession. Unlike Love, Simon, Strangelove doesn’t hold its protagonist accountable for hurting those around him; there’s a dearth of empathy for other characters, and Alex is increasingly hard to like.
A run-of-the-mill teen film elevated by impressive turns from Doheny and future star Weinstein. It disappoints, however, with unfortunate blindspots and heavy-handed messaging, ultimately resembling a misguided 21st-century PSA.
CAST: Daniel Doheny, Madeline Weinstein, Ayden Mayeri, William Ragsdale, Isabella Amara, Antonio Marziale
DIRECTOR: Craig Johnson
WRITER: Craig Johnson
SYNOPSIS: Alex Truelove’s plan to lose his virginity to his wonderful girlfriend Claire get complicated when he a handsome and charming gay guy from the other side of town.