Based on Becky Albertalli"s YA novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" and directed by Greg Berlanti (producer of "The Flash" and "Riverdale"), 20th Century Fox"s "Love, Simon" is a big-studio coming-of-age movie in the mold of dozens before it, with one twist: the main character is gay. When...
Based on Becky Albertalli’s YA novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” and directed by Greg Berlanti (producer of “The Flash” and “Riverdale”), 20th Century Fox’s “Love, Simon” is a big-studio coming-of-age movie in the mold of dozens before it, with one twist: the main character is gay. When teens and John Hughes fans alike fill showings on March 16th, will they be treated to a pitch-perfect teen movie or find Fox holding back for fear of ruffling conservative feathers? Here’s what the reviews have to say:
A Secret Identity And Blackmail Drive The Plot
Simon (Nick Robinson), as his opening monologue explains, is a normal teenager who likes killing time with his friends and looks forward to getting through his senior year of high school. Except Simon has one secret that no one knows: he’s gay. However, after an anonymous online post from one of his classmates claiming to also be closeted, Simon starts emailing this anonymous confessor who simply calls himself “Blue,” himself taking the anonymous moniker “Jacques.”
Dorky try-hard Martin (Logan Miller) finds out Simon’s secret and, nursing a crush on Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp, young Storm from X-Men: Apocalypse), blackmails Simon into nudging the two of them together. This also involves Simon lightly manipulating his pals Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), though everyone involved seems weirdly susceptible to Simon’s mild whims, maybe because the characters don’t have much dimension on their own.
The Movie Balances Its Funny And Sappy Elements
It’s softer and less biting than something like Easy A, which mercilessly skewers the social conventions of high school movies, but it’s no The Fault in Our Stars either, remaining too funny to settle into melodrama. Instead, Love, Simon comfortably situates itself somewhere in the middle of teen comedy and teen romance.
Love, Simon is an empathetic bliss-out, a fleet and sweet comedy/romance/mystery where the stakes couldn’t be higher — it deals with the public exposure of teenagers’ secrets! — but also where every high school crisis or embarrassment passes with time because people, it turns out, are fundamentally decent. That makes it a welcome rebuke to the tribal assumptions of the previous generation’s teen comedies, where the jocks hated the geeks who hated the theater people, and the lines between factions couldn’t be blurred.
Depending On Your Outlook, Nick Robinson’s Portrayal Of Simon Might Lean On ‘Being Average’ Too Hard
Simon is a fairly blank character, but we can give director Greg Berlanti and writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (“This Is Us”) the benefit of the doubt for making him that way, and not just to give the audience a space on which to project themselves; being in the closet is about hiding your light under a bushel and tamping down any aspects of your personality that might give you away.
Since much of the movie revolves around him being blackmailed, Robinson mostly plays him as irritable or distant, his mind always on something else as he goes about his daily life. As characterization, that makes sense, but it also keeps Simon at arm’s length from the audience; he’s so preoccupied with people not finding out one big part of his identity that viewers never really get to learn about the rest of it.
Nick Robinson, while certainly charming, is sort of purposefully a blank slate. It certainly serves well the idea that a gay teen can often be a normal, average guy, but there will likely be those who are frustrated by the fact that he isn’t coded gay really at all.
Most LGBTQ youth will see more of themselves in Ethan (Clark Moore), the school’s resident flamboyant. Observing Ethan being bullied, Simon says: “I wish he wouldn’t make it so hard on himself.” The movie is full of these kinds of rigid gender stereotypes that shame kids who don’t happen to be “totally normal with a huge ass secret.”
Its Messages About Queer Identity Can Be Muddled
Queer pundits will no doubt take “Love, Simon” to task for being too white, too cisgender, too heteronormative. And they won’t be wrong. But even if this is “Call Me By Your Name” through the lens of the Disney Channel, there’s a place in the culture for adolescent gay kids to enjoy the shiny, shallow, pop-song-infused coming-of-age stories that their straight peers consume on a daily basis.
This is mainstream crowd-pleasing studio filmmaking, so, of course, it’s in some ways behind the times. It’s also, like most studio filmmaking, an example: Here is a way you can be, it says to kids and to parents, to everyone who still believes there’s a median American normal.
Ethan’s been softening everyone up at school by bravely shouldering the brunt of anti-gay social abuse for the past two years, but Love, Simon, as heartening and well-intentioned as it is, isn’t quite the movie to understand Ethan on those explicit terms, or to explore their ramifications. That’s an advanced lesson, and this movie’s got to stick—and appeal—to the basics. So be it. I’m not here to finger-wag and tell you how much worse off it is for that fact.
Many Critics Feel It Captures A Particular Loneliness About Coming Out In Liberal Circles
There are concerns that those you’ve known longest will feel betrayed for not having been told sooner, that your family will feel guilty for not having been better supports when you clearly had a secret, that you will have to reinvent yourself to more fully embrace that newly acknowledged aspect of yourself. This is a film that so completely understands that aspect of coming out that it’s not only revelatory to straight audiences for whom the particularities of this experience are new and nuanced, but it illuminates an aspect of the queer experience that those of us who lived through it may have conflated with our own shame in coming out.
That’s one of the more fascinating aspects of a film like this: it both normalizes a teenager’s gayness, but recognizes the monumental nature of coming out — by any measure difficult ideas to have in conversation with each other, but which is done delicately here.
“Blue,” his unknown pen-pal, offers the kind of understanding that his straight friends and family can’t. It’s a feeling of connection that Berlanti (an openly gay man who made the wonderful queer dramedy The Broken Hearts Club in 2000) translates with real empathy.
Jennifer Garner And Josh Dushamel’s Roles As Simon’s Parents Are Well-Crafted
His mother [Garner] and father [Dushamel] are liberal and accepting. He knows they likely would embrace him. Yet there are little moments — dad makes a joke about masturbating to Gigi Hadid, or mocks the new Bachelor for being “clearly gay” — that, while hardly homophobic, are microaggressions that build up into a mountain too daunting for a closeted teen to emotionally scale.
At one point, [the dad] refers to another man as “fruity,” and you can see Simon straining not to flinch; the film nails the fleeting terror of moments like these, when loved ones disappoint.
It Has Particular Fun Layering In Depth With More Secrets
The cast and filmmakers stir these elements of secrets, lies, masks, and matchmaking for all they’re worth, prizing telling details and piercing observation over broad comedy. Relationships that in the film’s first moments seemed simple, copy-pasted from other movies, prove prickly and complex.
One particularly fun detail is the bait-and-switch nature of Simon’s detective work: every time he imagines “Blue” in his head, they appear onscreen as the real-life person he thinks they are, until that person proves in some way to not be who he’s searching for.
The Movie Hits All The Right John Hughes Notes
Does “Love, Simon” present a cozy suburban fantasy of tidy houses and understanding parents and mostly-bully-free high schools? Absolutely. But straight people have gotten that exact fantasy over the years from Mickey Rooney and Annette Funicello and Molly Ringwald. There are more LGBTQ stories to be told about different kinds of people, and those movies should absolutely be made. But letting two boys kiss in a movie this innocuous represents its own kind of revolution.
The film looks and sounds like so many other mainstream, John Hughes-nostalgic high-school-coms you’ve seen on both big and small screens, just with one difference: The hero is gay. It’s as if Berlanti is daring audiences to find anything objectionable in what amounts to a thoroughly family-friendly queer film.
Love, Simon is not an arthouse film that has to be sought out, or Queer as Folk episodes you have to pirate online, giving your parents’ desktop computer a ghastly virus. Love, Simon is a wide-release, mainstream movie marketed directly to the 13 Reasons Why, John Green generation, with the expectation that the film, its stars, and its story will be just as big a phenomenon.
It’s A Kinda Tacky Tearjerker — And That’s Just Alright
It’s too bad that the movie isn’t as vibrant, funny, and entertaining as the community it wishes to represent — but it’s a start.
The movie was directed by Greg Berlanti (the prolific writer-producer behind Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters, The Flash and more), penned by a pair of This Is Us scribes and produced by the people who brought you The Fault in Our Stars. In other words, it’s an expertly carved chunk of cheese. But taken on its own, limited terms, Love, Simon is also a charmer — warm, often funny and gently touching, tickling rather than pummeling your tear ducts.
Love, Simon is touching as a gesture. As entertainment, it’s nothing Degrassi hasn’t done better.
Love, Simon isn’t a subtle movie by any means, but it ought to be praised for normalizing something that should have been normal from the start.
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