Film Review: Love, SimonEngaging coming-of-age comedy with a difference: The lead of this major studio release is a gay teen.
“Everyone deserves a great love story” is one of the taglines for Love, Simon, and though there have been countless indie coming-out/coming-of-age movies, this Fox release is apparently the first big-studio film to feature a gay teen lead. And, indeed, it’s way overdue. Love, Simon has the same endearing quality as the John Hughes teen comedy classics of the 1980s but, as producer Wyck Godfrey pitched it, “instead of Molly Ringwald, it’s a guy. And Jake Ryan is still Jake Ryan.”
Nick Robinson stars as Simon Spier (an apt surname for this quiet observer), a decent, rather typical 17-year-old except for his big secret. Simon has loving parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a tight circle of friends and enjoys his life in the suburbs of Atlanta, but there’s something slightly aloof about him—he’s just not ready to announce his sexual desires to the world. His first step toward openness begins when he becomes aware of an anonymous post on a social-media site from a fellow student who’s also anguished about hiding his sexual orientation. Simon and the writer named “Blue” begin an intimate correspondence, and Simon becomes obsessed with discovering his secret confidant.
The plot takes a dark turn when the class buffoon, Martin (Logan Lerman), accidentally sees one of Simon’s e-mails and blackmails Simon into helping him get closer to his crush, Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp). When that plan runs aground in spectacular fashion, Martin retaliates by outing Simon.
Adapted by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (both writers for the NBC hit “This Is Us”) from Becky Albertalli’s 2012 young-adult novel Simon vs. theHomo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon can perhaps be faulted for being too cautious and eager to appeal to the widest possible audience (whose potential size, even in 2018, remains an open question). There’s but one flamboyant character in the whole movie, an out, gender-blurring boy with plenty of attitude (Clark Moore), and even when Simon participates in a fantasy production number set to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” he seems a bit hesitant. But perhaps that’s the point: to place this groundbreaking (for a studio) character in an aggressively “normal” context, and see how mainstream viewers respond. Robinson underplays the role, with no clichéd mannerisms—he’s just a very appealing kid dreading a momentous decision (despite all the no-doubt-supportive people around him), whose efforts to hide have unintended, hurtful repercussions. (That’s director Greg Berlanti’s “Dawson’s Creek” TV-melodrama roots seeping through.)
As in a John Hughes movie, the supporting cast is a boon here. Katherine Langford (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) is poignant as Simon’s childhood friend Leah, who’s had a lifelong unrequited crush on him. Garner is touching as his psychologist mother who always sensed something holding back her son, while erstwhile hunk Duhamel has a winning and funny emotional moment with his newly liberated boy. Shipp is charming as the new girl in school who has two avid suitors, but Lerman never quite overcomes the obnoxiousness of his scheming character. Special mention goes to scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell (“Insecure”) as a high-school drama teacher who always speaks her mind.
Fox deserves praise for bankrolling a film centered on an (ultimately) unapologetic gay teenage lead. Even if the gamble doesn’t bring huge box-office numbers, it’s good to know that kids like Simon can now see themselves up on the big screen, just as Molly pined for Jake.
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