Love, Simon Review
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a nice, likeable, only mildly pretentious teenager who has a great family, good friends, and who lives his average life. But he’s living with a secret; he’s gay and doesn’t feel ready to address it with the people in his life. When he discovers that there is a closeted gay kid at his school, he begins an anonymous correspondence with them, getting to know them and maybe falling in love. However, when a classmate finds Simon’s emails and threatens to out him to the school Simon must struggle to keep all the elements of his life in balance.
To call a film “important” carries with it a sense of expectation. If it lacks a kind of revolutionary brilliance that changes the course of cinema, then people are quick to decry it a failure. The thing is though that sometimes a film can be important just by being a normal, good film, and that is exactly what Love, Simon is; a really good high school teen film that aims to give gay teens the kind of onscreen romantic comedy that straight teens have gotten for years.
Young Adult literature is one heck of a cinematic commodity now. From John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns to the Hunger Games movies and last year’s Everything, Everything, these are books that can touch on some of the complexities of life and self-discovery, and film adaptations are no different. The film is based on a book by author Becky Abertalli which had the longer title Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Director Greg Berlanti is also no stranger to teen drama, having written episodes of Dawson Creek and producing the current hit Netflix Riverdale series.
His first film, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, much like Love, Simon also focusses on telling an LGBT+ story that is more light-hearted than many films which focus on stories centred around difficulties and tragedies of gay life. This is the crux of the matter with Love, Simon. Whilst other gay dramas can have at best bittersweet endings, this depicts an every day life and that normalising is a great step in terms of representation and media acceptance. Also, it’s just a fun, sweet movie. It has an awareness of the teen genre but without trying to milk it with heavy John Hughes references or something similar. As such, it is relevant to the current teenage experience for this generation, and yet has those underlying universal elements that work whatever your age.
It helps that the assembled cast is just brilliant. Nick Robinson, who was first brought to my attention in the amazing but under-seen coming of age film Kings of Summer, is so grounded and likeable as Simon. He’s figuring himself out and is reluctant to change things, and as such can make mistakes where his judgement may be off, but he is a good kid and loves the people in his life, utterly. There is a sweet naïvety to Simon’s fantasising and the fact that his mysterious penpal could be amongst his schoolmates. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel make for downright perfect teen movie parents and certain scenes with them towards the end are emotional and beautiful while never feeling too much or manipulative. As one of Simon’s newer friends Alexandra Shipp really shines, making me firmly believe that she needs to be in more things. The only performance that doesn’t work is Tony Hale as the Vice Principal Mr. Worth. His performance feels very forced and over the top in a way that contrasts too much with the more genuine approach that everybody else has.
In all the film is a fun, entertaining, enjoyable ride and easily one of the best high school movies since Easy A. Yes, the ending is slightly cheesy, but it’s earned it by then and it’s no more than some of the high school romance comedies of the past. Also, whilst the focus on a more normalised gay teen experience is wonderful, the movie kind of neglects the other letters in LGBT+. Of course, a single movie telling a single person’s story doesn’t have to address every aspect of the queer experience, but some discussion or sense of awareness would have been great, especially when one character in the book is revealed to be bisexual and Albertalli’s upcoming sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapien’s Agenda will also deal with bisexuality. Regardless of the little niggles, Love, Simon is a delightful teen comedy that matters. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will wish it hadn’t taken this long for us to get a film like this.