In Love, Simon, we meet Simon Spier as a run-of-the-mill high school student beginning his senior year. His family is built like a laundry detergent ad, down to the variety of sweaters, cream furniture, and what appears to be a hypo-allergenic dog, and his friends’ group – like the best of ours – emerges in effortless choreography.
It is a comfortable, happy, and predictable world which Simon – Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson – believes would fall apart if his one one secret was revealed: he’s gay.
The opening monologue, we find out later, is how Simon begins an anonymous email correspondence with another closeted gay student at his school, known only as Blue.
When another student discovers these exchanges and begins blackmailing Simon, the high schooler’s life is turned upside down, and pressure builds for Simon, his relationships, and the audience. His now disclosed secret and Simon’s relationship to it and himself provides the thrust of the plot for the film.
Robinson portrays Simon with comforting subtly, adding life and dimension to otherwise ‘too cool for’ characters of Ferris Bueller and Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s Tom in 500 Days of Summer.
Yes, you want to be friends with Robinson’s Simon because he knows the best bands, has the best one-liners, and seems pretty “chill”, but equally because you feel he would have a genuine conversation with you.
It is also why in Love, Simon you are challenged to simultaneously understand and be disappointed by the Simon’s action; a testament to Robinson as well as Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker’s adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s book.
Maybe like in high school itself, gazes of longing are not subtle in the film. Rather than being cloying, however, they allow the audience to see around more corners than individual characters and complicate feelings of loyalty held by viewers in an appreciated manner.
For a movie built around the experiences of a teenage boy, it is the female cast given the most material with which to work.
Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) draws captivating focus as she breathes life and intimacy into every scene as Simon’s childhood friend Leah, irrespective of how quiet. Meanwhile X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp’s portrayal of the recently arrived Abby is fresh and engaging throughout the movie – both in times of humor and more chewy material.
Both characters do the best in revealing different aspects of Simon, without sacrificing their own development as characters. Though kept separate throughout much of the movie, Langford and Shipps elicit some of the best and most emotionally-engaging depictions of Simon, high school, and the overall struggles of being a teenager.
One wishes the film spent more time on these relationships – and with Jorge Lendeborg Jr’s Nick Eisner – than the blackmail subplot, but enough is given for a complete movie with risks, sadness, and championing rewards.
As the movie delves further into the web of high school dynamics, it grabs hold of the truism that in high school, someone else’s problem must somehow affect you.
Cut with humor, the writers avoid preachiness and instead are able to capture truth, perspective, bemusement, and the opportunity for Simon move towards self-acceptance all within an interaction beginning with the line ‘did you date me because I look like a man’.
In high school, insecurities are for everyone.
The openly gay character drifts into stereotype at times (quaffed, flamboyant, sarcastic) while navigating away from others (he has supportive friends), but a third act moment provides enough depth to flesh out a character who exists beyond his bowties and the high school campus.
Even Logan Miller’s blackmailing Martin Addison is built to not bring him redemption but leaves you questioning if he is a terrible person or just a terribly lonely one. The latter may be true with his early declaration that he does not want to change to be loved, but to be loved for who he is.
Try finding that message in Grease.
It should be noted, much like the book, that Love, Simon features a diverse cast, none of whom – beyond an odd scene around Game of Thrones – are reduced to their ethnic and racial backgrounds or figure.
This commitment to complexity extends to adults in a film where there are no ‘trying too hard to be cool’ parents or administrators bent on ruining the lives of pupils.
The imprecisely written role of the school’s vice principal is rescued through the work of Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) whose performance hits squarely as the ‘second banana in command’ if-too-close administrator who will just as well cheer you as take away your phone.
Insecure’s Natasha Rothwell is electrically engaging as drama instructor Ms. Albright. With each sharp line deftly delivered, Rothwell emerges as an unanticipated favorite and Ms. Albright becomes the teacher you would love to run into outside of school if it were not the chance you were wearing a terrible outfit at the time.
Duhamel as the befuddling former-quarterback dad and Garner’s warm, considerate, and prescient mother play off one another well, with the latter providing a late moment that one wishes all parents would learn and replicate.
Joke-, or in this case ‘quip’, density is heavier during the movie’s first half, but is solidly maintained to both enlighten the mood and show strength and facets within characters.
There are some stylistic choices – primarily how Blue’s emails are read – which could have been performed differently to provide more focus on- and give more material to Robinson, and the desire that the movie was a squeak longer to flesh out more details about the anonymous pen pal is present, but overall it is deeply satisfying film.
Jumps into the absurd are well placed, and fans of ‘Coming Of Age’ comedies, romances, and dramas will see nods to classic films throughout.
Fans of the book should enjoy the film’s liberties, surprises, and loyalty to the source material in equal measure.
Overall, Love, Simon is a warm, compassionate movie, with enough humor and heart to ensure that even during our most difficult moments, authenticity and championing difference provides strength and builds joy.
‘Love, Simon’ was directed by Greg Berlanti and stars Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, and Katherine Langford. It opens in theaters March 16, 2018.