June being Pride Month, millennial-catering businesses are awash with ‘look-how-inclusive-we-are’ rainbowness. Let’s call gayvertising, shall we? Highly promoted on Netflix Originals, is a teen flick called Alex Strangelove. You get the gist of the story from its promos and the description text but for the purists who manage to button-mash quicker than Netflix forces promos on them, here’s your spoiler alert.
Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. He’s good-looking enough to be at the top of the American high school hierarchy (or so other teen movies would have us believe) but he isn’t up there. He’s also class president and has a beautiful girlfriend who shares his penchant for obscure animal factoids. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to have sex with said girlfriend, regardless of peer pressure. Yay for sensitive men and down with toxic masculinity.
Then the couple decides in true teen style to ‘just do it’ (even if that is a 20-year-old reference) and set a date and venue. Only in the week before, Alex meets a charming gay boy and suddenly we have the plot of the movie.
What didn’t work about this movie?
Literally everything from here onwards. Just what about Alex makes him this attractive to members of all sexes? Let’s assume that teenage minds of every sex are wired to make bad choices. So we have a ‘regular’ teenage boy who is suddenly the object of everyone’s affections. What does he do? First he goes along with gay boy’s obvious flirtation and is a real dick to his needing-support-during-mom’s-cancer girlfriend. Then he weasels his way back into girlfriend’s good graces but also returns to the gay boy to jump his bones, then gay shames/blames him. He then runs back to the girlfriend to cheat on her (yes, it’s called that even if it happened inside your own mind especially when you’re still inside her, jerk-face). He is an utter asshole, literally while they’re both still naked. If this isn’t enough, he also later cheats on both people with a random stranger (female by the way, not that it matters when you’re cheating) at a party and the best friend (remember sage dude?) gets beaten up for it.
And what’s the end result? Shitfaced Alex is rescued in his drunken glory by the long-suffering girlfriend while best friend gets his ego and black eye massaged from the girl he’s been stalking for years. Boy, the makers of this film really hate women, don’t they?
Oh but wait, it ain’t over. Humiliated girlfriend and shamed gay boy get together to try again to give Alex the life he wants. Who does this and why should they? Alex takes every single inch he’s given and more with the kind of entitlement that makes him completely unlikeable. After the girlfriend graciously sets him up with the gay boy, he chickens out ‘because people are watching’. When the gay boy walks away in disgust, he chases him, suddenly sure that he is gay.
Inadequate Sexuality Labels
For a film that supposedly challenges heteronormativity, this one reinforces some highly toxic stereotypes about sexuality. Alex’s reticence towards sex is set up in a don’t-virgin-shame message but ends up reinforcing the notion that if a man isn’t a ravenous for sex, he is gay.
Who are these sage best friends who shame him for not rushing into sex (a la The Big Bang Theory) but are also wonderfully conversant with the gender-fluid, pansexual, polyamorous attitudes of their generation? Speaking of polyamory and pansexuality, the writers of the movie don’t know that these are two different things, as has been pointed out by several irate people. And in this sexually self-aware world, how come no one so much as hints at bisexuality, bicuriosity or good old sexual ambivalence?
Alex is a teenager, a time in his life for sexual experimentation. ‘Man crush’ is given lip service with no depth or dimension added. The fact that Alex has been in a straight relationship for over a year suggests that he has been attracted to women too. The flimsy plot suggests that the gay liaison may just have been a one-off reaction to a fear of sex. Alex’s actions also seem to suggest that bisexual people are just entitled enough to want everything, even at the cost of other people’s feelings.
There’s nothing to indicate that Alex lives in a homophobic world. Even his toxic male best friend (who stalks women, virgin-shames and sends unsolicited nudes) knows about sexual liberatedness. Homophobia is assigned one terrible scene towards the end of the film. Even this latter is more about school bullying and at best, a flimsy excuse for Alex’s need to please. It does grave disservice to the harassment and harm meted out to queer people all over the world. And it definitely does not address the fact that Alex hasn’t been attracted to men before this or that he clearly has felt attraction for women too.
Not once is Alex’s terrible treatment of everyone else called out. Instead the film turns queerness and sexual ambiguity into an excuse for bad behaviour, no responsibility and zero consequences for hurting other people. I’d say this is typical old, white Hollywood at its worst, turning out a weak, self-absorbed white male protagonist with everyone else around serving as props in his entitled journey.
Instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they have (also) a Manic Pixie Dream Gay. It doesn’t seem like the makers of Alex Strangelove actually like gay people very much or they’d be more sensitive to how the gay boy as well as a prime ally of queer people (straight women) are treated within the story. If you take pride in sexual freedom and in allying with the rainbow cause, give this one a skip.