By: Steve Pulaski
Love, Simon is a deeply sincere, affectionate coming out/of-age film fueled by a host of well-developed characters played by commendable actors. While sometimes too precise in its sentimentality and of course bound to draw criticism for the main character's easier path for coming out than most, these details will hold little weight for those who find their lives helped or even saved because of this film.
Greg Berlanti's romantic comedy-drama echoes John Hughes' greatest achievements for the respective genre as it tells the story of Simon Spier (Jurassic World's Nick Robinson), a closeted high school senior struggling to confess that he's gay to his family and friends. He's pretty sure his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) would support him, and he's got a comfortable circle of friends — Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Spider-Man: Homecoming's Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and Abby (Alexandria Ship) — who would likely do the same. Yet with college coming up soon, Simon finds himself questioning the point of offsetting the stability of his current situation.
He finds some solace when he visits the school blog and finds that a classmate of his has anonymously come out himself. After some consideration, Simon creates a new email and begins exchanging messages with the original poster, known as "Blue." Just as Simon starts having feelings for his internet pen-pal, Martin (Logan Miller), a fellow thespian who works with Simon on the school play, discovers his emails on a school computer. Martin blackmails Simon into setting him up with Abby, despite Nick clearly looking to ask her to be his girlfriend, which triggers a series of fabrications Simon concocts in effort to keep his secret from being discovered by the entire school.
Robinson plays Simon very effectively, using screenwriters' Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger's efforts to keep him a somewhat under-developed character as a chance to communicate Simon's private personality to the audience. He confidently turns Simon into a well-intentioned soul, whose silences and hushed ways of handling problems become indicative of someone who is extremely cognizant about the "vibes" he gives off to the people in his life. God forbid Simon wear a blazer, a buttoned T-shirt, or something that would signal that he might indeed be gay. Where some might write him off as being too vanilla, he's realistically written as a young male figuratively "holding his breath," as it's so eloquently put at one point in the film.
Aptaker and Berger, working off of Becky Albertalli's book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, do a fine job at crafting a legion of solid supporting characters, not so much to compensate for Simon's modest lack of a personality, but to illustrate different dynamics. For example, Simon and Leah have a different relationship than Simon and Nick, and we know this because scenes exist to show that they do rather than leave the audience to assume otherwise. Again, it recalls some of the best John Hughes films, such as Breakfast Club and Weird Science, where a generous portion of the fun came from seeing how different characters communicated with one another and how that led to a more-developed setting. The filmmakers do everything in their power to make Simon's high school come to life naturally, with different faces all getting their moment in the film, including Clark Moore's scene-stealing Ethan, an unapologetically gay student, and Natasha Rothwell's Mrs. Albright, Simon's drama teacher.
There are times when Love, Simon is too idyllic for its own good. Simon's upper middle-class life is one that presents a spotless house, the most understanding, liberal parents, a socially accepting high school, and abject tolerance amongst adolescents as common-place inclusions; Simon couldn't ask for a safer place to come out. While reality begs to differ in terms of the realism of many of these situations, it's also quite pleasant to see a story about a gay person not end in tragedy, death, sickness, or suicide. Furthermore, the film is not worlds different from the likes of heteronormative coming of age films, where the perfections are there and the world is constructed mostly by way of round-tip scissors. But Love, Simon is emotionally honest when it counts the most, and that includes a moment between the titular character and Martin that drives home the sliminess in character that is the latter individual as well as a terrifically played moment between Robinson and Duhamel late in the third-act.
Love, Simon is the first film ever released by a major studio (Fox) to focus on a gay teen romance. In turn, the film presents yet another opportunity for the massively critical folks who use social media as a squawk-box to bash Hollywood for not being inclusive in their stories to support a film I'm convinced most of them will truly enjoy. If people seek Berlanti's new film outin theaters and it succeeds, perhaps it will lead to similar films with comparable themes yet more daring approaches and more unique characters. It's worth a try, isn't it? Especially when the overall product is this good.