Love, Simon is a funny, heartfelt, and truly touching teen romantic comedy that instantly becomes a modern classic for today’s generation.
Hollywood has always loved adapting popular novels to the big screen. In the last two decades, it has seemed that adaptations of young adult novels have been on the rise, with studios finding success in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy especially with Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. However, young adult fiction – that is, fiction not in the sci-fi/fantasy genre – has also seen success when adapted to the big screen, especially in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, though there have been others that have flown more under the radar, like Paper Towns and Everything, Everything. Now, 20th Century Fox has found another major success in its adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s YA novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Love, Simon is a funny, heartfelt, and truly touching teen romantic comedy that instantly becomes a modern classic for today’s generation.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a generally happy and normal teenager. His parents are the epitome of a cliché love story since his father Jack (Josh Duhamel) was the star high school quarterback who married the valedictorian, Emily (Jennifer Garner). They’re a typical nuclear family, with two parents, two kids – Simon and his little sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) – and a dog named Bieber. Simon also has pretty normal friends: His two childhood best friends Nick Eisner (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Leah Burke (Katherine Langford) as well as the new addition to their group, Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp). However, Simon has one “big-ass” secret: He’s gay – and he hasn’t told anyone. That changes when he connects with an online pen pal, a boy named Blue who goes to the same high school and is also a closeted gay teen.
In an unfortunate turn of events, though, Simon’s private emails to Blue are seen and screenshotted by fellow classmate Martin Addison (Logan Miller), who blackmails Simon into helping him try to make Abby like him. In an effort to protect his relationship with Blue, Simon goes along with Martin, but puts his relationships with all his friends in jeopardy to do so. All the while, Simon and Blue grow closer and Simon tries to figure out who Blue could possibly be. Is Blue actually Nick’s soccer teammate Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), the waiter at Waffle House Lyle (Joey Pollari), or drama club pianist Cal (Miles Heizer)? Simon will have to open up about who he really is to find the boy of his dreams.
Written by This is Us co-showrunners Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, Love, Simon is the third feature-length directorial effort from TV super-producer Greg Berlanti (the mind behind The CW’s Arrowverse lineup), who previously helmed The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy and Life As We Know It. As an out gay man, Berlanti is able to bring a great deal of sincerity to the portrayal of Simon in Love, Simon both in funny moments – like Simon ogling a landscaper in his neighborhood – as well as the more emotional moments. Plus, Berlanti seemingly infused a little bit of himself in the story of Simon, which is especially apparent in a scene where Simon imagines his life as an out gay college student in L.A. The scene is a delightful divergence from the book and is one of Simon’s many imaginations-come-to-life that allow what’s going on in Simon’s mind to be seen rather than told to the audience.
Simon is, of course, the character on which the whole movie hinges, and Robinson is able to deliver a multifaceted performance as the eponymous lead. He is charming when necessary, achingly vulnerable at times, but most effectively, truly hard-to-watch awkward in a way that only teenagers can be. To be certain, Simon’s sexuality is a major factor of his character, and the character’s arc throughout the movie deals with Simon reconciling his “big-ass secret” with all the “normal” aspects of his life. Still, his sexuality is neither the most important nor the most showcased part of Simon, which is to say the movie does a fantastic job of giving the character depth that allows any moviegoer to identify with Simon no matter their own sexuality. Simon’s portrayal of a closeted gay teenager will undoubtedly be important to teenagers like him who have not seen a character like them on the big screen, but Simon’s awkward high school love story is universal and can – and should – be enjoyed by anyone.
Simon’s world is filled out by an array of high school students who don’t receive as much depth as the leading character, though that’s to be expected from a two-hour movie. Although the drama that unfolds in Simon’s friend group (thanks to his own machinations) is sometimes relatable, it takes a back seat at times, causing certain developments to feel undeserved – simply shoehorned in for dramatic effect rather than emotional payoff. Still, Nick’s, Leah’s, and Abby’s relationships with Simon are well developed enough that viewers root for them as an extension of Simon, even if they’re not necessarily fully invested in the characters themselves. Blue is perhaps the most well-developed character beyond Simon, as is expected of the lead’s romantic interest, and Love, Simon achieves this despite keeping viewers guessing about Blue’s identity until the very last, heartwarming minute.
Love, Simon is a teen rom-com at its heart and, as such, employs a number of cliches typical of the genre. The only two teachers who receive any screen time in Love, Simon – Tony Hale’s hip, anti-cellphone vice principal Mr. Worth and Natasha Rothwell’s beleaguered drama teacher Ms. Albright – are comically overdramatic and offer little more than comic relief. However, the film uses these two characters to great comedic effect, so Love, Simon manages to pull off this trope to great entertainment. Further, the straight relationship drama between Nick, Leah, Abby, and Martin veers into lazy cliche at times, a consequence of the film not developing their relationships with each other as much as their relationships with Simon. That said, Love, Simon choosing to keep its focus on Simon’s coming out and his relationship with Blue is one of its biggest strengths, so if the other dynamics between the teens are a little underdeveloped, it’s a forgivable side effect of the film knowing which character and whose story is most important.
All in all, Love, Simon is a modern teen classic for a new generation, one that blends a coming out coming-of-age tale with an equally romantic storyline. It features strong performances from the young cast, though they are perhaps somewhat outshined by Garner and Duhamel, who both deliver achingly sincere portrayals of parents reacting to their son’s coming out. Whether moviegoers are the exact target age for the film – meaning, pre-teens and teenagers – or older, Love, Simon delivers a heartwarming story of self-identity and first love that anyone will find relatable. Though, again, Love, Simon will likely mean most to moviegoers who see themselves in Simon Spier and are able to see themselves for perhaps the first time on screen as a lead in a mainstream Hollywood teen rom-com.
Love, Simon is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 109 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying.
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