Review: “Love, Simon”

4 out of 5 stars.

Love, Simon,” has everything you’d expect to find in a teen rom-com: a quirky sense of humor, misunderstandings that complicate friendships, attempts to fit in while navigating the drama of high school, and the search for first love.  But the one thing that makes “Love, Simon” not just stand apart in the genre is what also makes it ground-breaking: the story’s protagonist is a gay teen struggling with coming out to his family and peers, the first teen film from a major Hollywood studio to tackle the topic.

Directed by Greg Berlanti and based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, the film revolves around Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a high school senior who, as he declares in the opening narration, leads a perfectly normal life.  He has a fun and understanding family—parents Jack and Emily, played by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner, and younger sister Nora, played by Talitha Bateman—and a close circle of friends: Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).  But he’s tormented by a secret that no one else knows: Simon is gay.  But when one of his closeted classmates reveals himself on their school’s gossip site, going by the name “Blue,” Simon reaches out to him and begins an online correspondence.  He begins searching for Blue everywhere, but when a classmate finds out and threatens to blackmail him, his friendships, his relationship with Blue, and his secret are put at stake.

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Simon (Nick Robinson) and best friend Leah (Katherine Langford)

Had the romance at the center of “Love, Simon” been between a guy and a girl, the film would likely still be entertaining, but ultimately unmemorable.  But the film does a fantastic job of putting the gay kid—who is usually relegated to the role of comedic sidekick in these sorts of movies—center stage, and not merely in a superficial way. The story puts the audience inside Simon’s head, with his narration often making it feel like he is speaking directly to the viewer.  There are more creative sequences that help the viewer see things from Simon’s point of view, from a delightful music number in which Simon imagines himself attending “Liberal University” in Los Angeles, dancing to pop songs amidst a flurry of color, to more subtle details, like how his visualization of Blue changes depending on who he thinks he could be at any given moment.  The mystery of who Blue is is one of the most compelling and relatable parts of the film; Simon takes even the littlest hint that a male classmate could be Blue and runs with it, and his disappointment every time his theory is disproved is palpable.  The potential candidates include his classmate Bram (excellently played by Keiynan Lonsdale) and Lyle (Joey Pollari), a server he meets at Waffle House.

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Simon and family

The story, as well as Robinson’s heartfelt performance, also serves as an inspiration for young people who may be going through the same things as Simon.  Robinson does a great job portraying the tension involved in keeping his secret, and the fear that someone may find out before he wants them too; even just sending an anonymous email to Blue makes him nervous, as he is completely out of his comfort zone.  Simon is in a state of perpetual stress throughout the film, but by the end, as Garner puts it in her character’s lovely speech to Simon, he can finally exhale.  The few big LGBT films that stick out in our minds end in tragedy and sorrow—think “Brokeback Mountain,” or even last year’s acclaimed “Call Me by Your Name.”  But “Love, Simon” ends in celebration and acceptance—yet another reason why this film is a game-changer.

While it is filled with great performances across the board—delivered by an incredibly diverse cast—and an important message, “Love, Simon” isn’t a perfect film.  While most of the dialogue and humor is clever, there’s a lot that tries too hard, while Simon gets in over his head so much that some of his actions toward his friends feel out of character coming from the boy who in the film’s opening scene declares how important his friends are to him.  But in the end, its flaws don’t impact how enjoyable it is, or how important a step this film is in diversifying Hollywood.  Don’t wait to watch this movie—see it in the theater, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more films like it in the near future.

Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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