Home > Reviews > REVIEW – Love, Simon

REVIEW – Love, Simon

Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Produced by: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Pouya Shahbazian
Screenplay by: Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger
Edited by: Harry Jierjian
Cinematography by: John Guleserian
Music by: Rob Simonsen
Starring: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., Logan Miller, Talitha Bateman, Keiynan Lonsdale, Miles Heizer, Joey Pallari, Tony Hale
Based on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Year: 2018

Full disclosure that, to some of you, may sound a bit more like a disclaimer : I’m embarrassed to admit this, but… I am writing this after having seen the movie in theatres twice. I rarely do that for any film that isn’t something like Star Wars, or a superhero movie, or any number of films that benefit greatly from the sensory stimulus of a theatre experience. Love, Simon, a romcom about teenagers, is hardly in the same category. So why, then, did I pay good money for a second theatrical viewing, including concessions, to see this run-of-the-mill film about teenagers when I didn’t even do the same for Lady Bird, another film about a teenager that was among my personal picks for one of the best films of 2017?

Well, honestly, because the movie made me feel so… happy. Because I was in a pretty bad mood when I decided to see it the second time. Actually, to be perfectly forward, I was incredibly depressed, and I recalled that the first time I saw it left me feeling so much happier, so much more… this might sound a bit pathetic, but… as a gay man, I felt more affirmed, on a personal level, having watched Love, Simon than I had with many other films in recent years. I’d love to say the same about any of the ones I’d watched about faith, as I am a Christian, too, and I know that some of you may be thinking about where my identity in Christ lies if this is the kind of movie I find solace in. But, sadly, I do not share the same fundamentalist and often incendiary views as the audiences who watch and enjoy something like God’s Not Dead and find themselves texting everyone on their contact list that, you know… hey, He’s not, so… go watch a movie that says He’s not like I did, maybe? And so instead I’m left with this, ostensibly the first mainstream film of its kind to intimately follow the journey of a closeted teenage boy coming out.

Simon Spier is a 17-year-old who, in an admittedly painfully expository (and quite disingenuous) voiceover, explains to the audience that he’s “just like you,” leading a happy life in a fairly wealthy-looking neighborhood in an incredibly nice house. His parents seem to have a pretty idyllic marriage, even after being perfectly happy together since high school and having been married for the 20 years following. He gets along well with his younger sister, and he and his awesome friends have a daily ritual of getting iced coffee together on the way to school. Simon is neither popular nor bullied, and he rather likes his life. (Who wouldn’t?) The only thing, of course, is that he’s got a secret that he believes could change all this: Simon is gay. While he’s fairly certain that everyone he knows and loves will be totally cool about it, and it seems he’s not exactly torn up about it himself, either, the unknown changes that a public admission will bring are still more than he thinks he can handle, particularly while he’s in high school. Turns out, however, that he’s not the only one at school going through this. Another boy has anonymously expressed his own concerns about coming out on the school’s social media page, causing a big commotion among the student body. Sensing a kindred spirit, Simon anonymously reaches out to the other boy, nicknamed “Blue,” and as the two begin to bond over their shared experiences, Simon begins to wonder if now’s the time to risk it all, come out, and meet this other boy who could be his “one.”

The film’s narrative is mostly driven by Simon’s attempts to figure out Blue’s identity as the two grow closer together via email, and that narrative itself is littered with the usual high school movie tropes you’d expect – the raucous house party while parents are away, homecoming games, singing together in the car, a high school musical, big and misguided gestures by teenagers to express their affection for another teenager that they’d probably ultimately not wind up staying with long term regardless of the outcome, and even a countdown to graduation. It’s all familiar territory, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone feeling as if the movie wasn’t set apart enough from the rest to ultimately be lauded as some kind of milestone. To those people, I would say, “Kudos to you.” And then I’d also congratulate them for being so open-minded to what’s considered “normal,” because, for me, it’s that “gay factor” that made all the difference.

Here’s the thing about a lot of films with prominent gay characters: they are usually supporting players, and even when they’re not, their plot is often centered on sex. I’m not a prude or anything, and I understand the urge to present that aspect in the face of ignorance and bigotry because sometimes that’s just all those people think about, too, but in the opposite mindset, but having so much of gay pop culture revolve around sex is honestly boring. It’s annoying when that’s all even straight people’s stories revolve around, but it’s particularly annoying when it becomes a defining trait. It’s nice to have such a comparatively chaste film – and a wide release, non-indie film at that – that actually stars a gay character and deals with other aspects of his life, particularly since it’s quite hard to explain to straight people how identifying one’s sexual orientation as something other than their own doesn’t mean you’re now only concerned about your next hookup.

I also very much appreciate that the film doesn’t make Simon an obvious closet case. I’m not intending to belittle or offend anyone when I say that Hollywood has its ideas of how to portray gay people, and Simon is decidedly not it. It is refreshing, in terms of Hollywood depictions, particularly when it comes to younger people who don’t see themselves in the stereotypes and for those who would enforce the stereotypes in their bullying. Even Ethan – the only “out” kid in the school, and a character who would probably fit in more with those stereotypical Hollywood portrayals – at one point affectionately tells Simon, “Your all-hoodie wardrobe doesn’t exactly rock my world.” And yet the film acknowledges the fact that, despite their outward differences, both Simon and Ethan have problems stemming from how their sexual orientation made them see themselves – particularly how Simon saw himself in contrast to Ethan, which helped internalize his denial and phobias – and how others see and treat them based on their one shared aspect, regardless of how that aspect gets presented and how people respond to it. (By the way, if Love, Simon does get some kind of follow-up, might I suggest an Ethan-centered spinoff?) You don’t have to have a fear of violent repercussions or being shunned to worry about how, even in today’s world, coming out still carries with it quite a bit of consideration, worry, and external change.

Luckily, it’s not just a message film, and in terms of the acting, performances across the board are quite strong. Nick Robinson has been around for a while now and is just making his way into adulthood, but he’s still believable as a 17-year-old boy awkwardly figuring out how to make this whole thing work. Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. feature as Simon’s best friends, and, thankfully, the film is just as adept at keeping them believable, if unbelievably and uniformly privileged, high school kids who aren’t necessarily fitting into compulsory roles. They still feel like movie teenagers, sure, but they’re recognizable as young, normal people who have their quirks and flaws and are more than willing to get angry with one another when it’s actually reasonable and not over some stupid contrivance. The same cannot necessarily be said for the film’s only character who can somewhat be called an antagonist, Martin, here played by Logan Miller as the movie’s obligatory and unnecessarily broad doofus. If people are going to compare this to a John Hughes film, as they have been, then he is this film’s Long Duk Dong. Luckily, he’s really the only bad egg in the bunch, and before you know it, you’re loving every moment that Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are on screen as Simon’s parents. Sure, they don’t get a speech as wonderful as Michael Stuhlbarg’s at the end of Call Me by Your Name, but the movie comes close enough that you’ll not feel guilty about those tears you shed.

This is admittedly the movie I wish I could have had in high school, when I was still convincing myself that I wasn’t objectifying women like other guys because I was being a gentlemen, was denying myself because I didn’t walk with a swish and speak with a heap of sass, and was alluding to crushes I didn’t actually have and possibly leading on my own close friend who happened to be a girl. I’ll also cop to the fact that my review may be a bit more skewed towards positivity than others because I found in it things that I could identify with and things that I wished I could have. For me, Love, Simon is a blend of affirming reality and wishful fantasy, but one that ultimately still brought me hope for younger people today. Perhaps like Simon, more of them can actually figure this out earlier on, find out they didn’t have much to worry about, after all, and go on to figure out who that person they’re meant to be with is, just like all the other kids are encouraged to do. So yeah, I couldn’t help but love Love, Simon.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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