It has taken 10 years for Alex Strangelove to make it from script to screen.
Despite Craig Johnson’s trials and tribulations trying to get the zany romantic-comedy, which revolves around the titular character struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in his final year of high school, made, the writer and director can still remember exactly where he was when he came up with the idea.
“It sparked after I went to see the singer Mika in New York,” Johnson recalled to me. “It struck me how many out of the closet teenagers were at the show. They were living out and proud. I just thought, 'Wow! High school is a different place to what it was when I was there in the 90s'.”
At the gig, Johnson took a spontaneous trip down memory line. “I was thinking about my own journey of sexual identity and confusion. I just thought about being in high school today, where things are more progressive and open. ‘What would that be like?’"
"I also wanted to tell my circuitous coming out story, which took me well into my mid 20s to figure out. I wanted to cram that into one kid’s senior year of high school. And then couch the whole thing in the traditional American high school movie genre. With all kinds of party scenes and sexcapades. I knew that I hadn’t seen that before. So I wrote that back in 2008. Well, the first draft at least.”
At this point things became much more complicated, as Johnson and “Alex Strangelove” became entangled in development hell.
“We struggled to get it made for 10 years. Not really because of the content. At least no-one said it was because of the content to my face.”
“The problem was that I didn’t have any roles for movie stars. People would say, ‘We love this. We get it. The conflict being a kid struggling with his sexuality. But it being a fun high-school sex comedy. Could you re-write it? Beef up a role for a teacher and then we will be off to the races’.”
“I tried to re-write it. But it never worked. It was never about a teacher and a kid. Or a parent and a kid. It was always in the world of the kids. Which I think is really true to high school.”
“Because your world is your friends in high school. So I was like, ‘I’m sorry, this is the story. We are with the kids.’ So it really took Netflix coming and saying, ‘Hey, our business model doesn’t require a movie star in the lead role. We love this. Cast whoever you want and have fun’.”
For Johnson, Netflix was the perfect home for “Alex Strangelove.” “Working with Netflix was an unfettered dream. They were 100% supportive creatively. They never interfered.”
“They were true to their word when they said, ‘This is your movie. Go ahead and make the movie you want to make.’ Every step of the process. It was just a dream scenario.”
The freedom provided by Netflix allowed Johnson to make the film that he had always envisioned, which he believes approaches the romantic comedy genre from a truly unique angle and point of view.
“We had never seen a kid struggling with his sexuality as the center piece conflict in a more mainstream high school movie.”
“There were niche coming out high school stories, which were targeted to an LGBT audience. And then the bigger more prestige pictures like ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ which usually involve a tragic ending. I just thought I had not seen this movie yet.”
But Johnson insists that “Alex Strangelove” isn’t just for the LGBT community, and can be enjoyed by a wide and mainstream audience.
“I hope the film invites everyone to the table. All teenagers. Gay, straight and everyone in between. I wanted to even take the, ‘I’ve got to lose my virginity before Prom night,’ story, and freshen it up for 2018.”
You can see if “Alex Strangelove” achieves just that when it is released on Netflix on June 8th.