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Alex Strangelove and the Rise of the Queer Teen Film

Can queer characters reinvigorate the tired teen movie genre?
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Netflix just released a trailer for their upcoming teen film Alex Strangelove, a raunchy comedy in the vein of Superbad that centers on high schooler Alex (Daniel Doheny) and his quest to lose his virginity. This is a classic storyline we’ve seen in teen movies dating back to 1983 with Tom Cruise’s preppy virgin Joel Goodsen in Risky Business up through the 90’s and early 2000’s with the American Pie franchise. Even recent release Blockers tells the story of three girls making a virginity pact on prom night, although it deals with the subject matter in a surprisingly sex-positive way. In Alex Strangelove, the main character juggles his desire to lose his v-card with his realization that he may be gay.

The film is written and directed by Craig Johnson, whose previous film Skeleton Twins was a dark but delightful dramedy starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Alex Strangelove will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Love, Simon, a coming out story/romantic comedy that broke ground as the first studio-made film with a queer teen protagonist. The film, which was released in March by 20th Century Fox, drew critical acclaim and enjoyed box office success, earning $56 million worldwide on a $17 million budget.

This begs the question: are we entering a golden age of queer teen cinema? With the rise of streaming culture and television, teen films have largely fallen out of favor. The most successful teen films in recent memory have been set in dystopian futures (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner series) or were based on bestselling YA books (The Fault in Our Stars, the Twilight Saga) or both.

Television has been addressing queer teen storylines for years, dating back to The O.C. in 2003 and, most famously, Glee in 2009. Now, shows like Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why, and pretty much every series on the CW feature queer characters. Clearly, there is an audience for these kinds of coming of age stories. Film has been slow to follow, but in the wake of Love, Simon that may be changing. Blockers featured a side plot that shows nerdy Sam (Gideon Adlon) bowing out of her friends’ virginity pact when she realizes she’s a lesbian. Queer teens were also featured in the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird as well as the Oscar-winning Moonlight.

However, we still have a long way to go in terms of representation. Both Love, Simon and Alex Strangelove features stories about cis white gay men, while stories featuring women, POC, and gender non-conforming folks are still few and far between. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a young gay teen sent to conversion therapy, won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival but still struggled to find distribution. The film, written and directed by queer filmmaker Desiree Akhavan, eventually got picked up by FilmRise and is set to be released this fall. Hopefully, we’re about to see a new renaissance of queer films that speaks to today’s teens.

Alex Strangelove premieres on Netflix on June 8th.

(via IndieWire, image: 20th Century Fox)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.