Published Mar 13, 2018If high school is already an agonizing gauntlet where conformity clashes daily with individuality in the uncomfortable process of forging an identity, consider then the plight of the closeted gay teen. In the funny and affecting Love, Simon, the titular character wrestles with coming out and learns that, even with the most supportive family and friends imaginable, there's still no easy way to take those awkward first steps.
As Simon (Nick Robinson) explains in his opening narration, he's just an ordinary high school senior save for his one big secret. He has an attentive mother (Jennifer Garner) and macho dad (Josh Duhamel). His younger sister (Talitha Bateman) is an aspiring chef who regularly tests out new recipes on him. His circle of friends includes childhood pals Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Leah (Katherine Langford) while Abby (Alexandra Shipp) is a newcomer to the group who has quickly formed a bond with all of them.
When the school's dedicated rumour blog receives a post from an anonymous student known only as "Blue" who is coming to terms with his own homosexuality, Simon reaches out via email as "Jacques." They start a correspondence that gradually becomes something deeper through sharing their similar feelings and experiences. As he attempts to unravel the mystery of the identity of his new pen pal, a fellow student (Logan Miller) desperately in love with Abby discovers Simon's secret and threatens to out him unless Simon helps him win Abby's affections.
The performances from the charismatic young cast are uniformly excellent. Robinson is especially impressive in his ability to convey the inner turmoil constantly roiling beneath the surface. There's also room for some amusing supporting characters, including Tony Hale as the school's overzealous vice principal. Natasha Rothwell dominates every scene as the beleaguered drama teacher helming a doomed production of Cabaret. She has a scene where she thwarts a couple of bullies in the cafeteria that brings the house down.
Adapted from a young adult novel by Becky Albertalli with the slightly less marketable title of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the script rests on a delicate balance of comedy and drama. While most of the jokes land, there are times when the film reaches for a cheap sitcom laugh that undercuts the seriousness of the scene. Given that the film was written by This Is Us scribes Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, and directed by Greg Berlanti (who cut his teeth writing and producing melodrama for teens on Dawson's Creek), there's an expected amount of sentimentality that effectively tugs at the heartstrings, but it all teeters over into mawkishness in the third act.
Though there's no doubt that this film will especially resonate with teens and could even help young people that see some of themselves in Simon, one can't help but wonder about those that don't have access to the kind of support system that Simon does. Acceptance and tolerance aren't always quite as prevalent for gay teens as they are for Simon, but maybe with more mainstream films like this being embraced in popular culture, they could be. (Fox)