Film Review – Love, Simon
Sweet, sincere, a bit too obvious, funny, yet also guilty of explaining things versus actually portraying them, all of these can be ascribed to the new teen dramedy Love, Simon. It’s a bit aggravating in a way, because representation in pop culture is extremely important. And we seem to be in a moment where more people are waking up to that idea. So, to have a movie like this, which in essence is a mainstream romantic comedy but for cute Caucasian homosexuals, it’s actually good. It’s important for every kind of person to be able to see themselves on the screen, whether it be a superhero phenomenon like Black Panther or Wonder Woman, or a clever and creepy suspense film like Get Out. The argument has been made that the Fast and Furious films are some of the most progressive movies in theaters because they feature truly mixed-race casts. Every group should have popcorn flicks. And this is one. But given that, sometimes I wish that when an example of representation came out that the given group got a more artful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of most of those examples I just named and could argue that they are great. But if the recent Call Me By Your Name was a romantic gay “film”, this is a romantic gay “movie”. It’s fun and has it’s heart in the right place, but it’s definitely a movie.
Nick Robinson plays the titular character Simon Spier. In his voiceovers, we hear what a picturesque High School life he has. His parents played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are a good looking, successful couple who caringly engage in their children’s lives. His sister’s one quirky character trait is to constantly cook experimental versions of recipes from cooking shows. He has a group of friends who are loving and supportive. But he is living with the secret that he’s gay. On a public online message board, another student publicly comes out, but uses a pseudonym so no one knows who it is. Simon takes a chance and starts an online flirtation with him using a fake name as well. Their anonymous conversations prove to be a connection point for both of them. They inspire each other to take risks and become themselves. They are falling in love online as well without knowing who each other are.
It is really great to see a movie take the issue of coming out as seriously as this does. The situation here is almost ludicrously accepting. Simon’s parents are liberals. The kids at school are mostly accepting. Simon wouldn’t even be the first gay kid at school. But even in what would be the most ideal circumstances, a teenage boy dealing with his sexual identity is still confusing and scary. The movie does show some of the casual bigotry that occurs even from the best-intentioned people. Simon’s Dad makes the occasional corny joke about the sexuality of someone on TV. The flamboyantly gay kid in school gets picked on by a couple of bullies, and even though he can easily defend himself verbally, no one else comes to his aid. Even unintentionally, the world is full of social mores that make being gay difficult. Also, defining who you are to yourself can be a scary thing. The second half of this movie is better than the first simply because it gives proper weight to a lot of these issues.
The downside of Love, Simon is the aforementioned obviousness of some of the writing. Simon tells us how he feels through voiceover which can be kind of a lazy script device. Characters tend to dump information or explain their feelings instead of portraying them. Late in the movie, Simon has an emotional blowout with his friend group and they all take turns berating him explaining exactly what’s wrong. It’s telling instead of showing. This film is directed by Greg Berlanti of whom I am a big fan. He’s the Producer and creator of all of those DC superhero shows on the CW network. Those shows are often more fun to watch than the superhero movies DC puts out. But none of them are especially strong on subtlety. Love, Simon has a bit of that DNA in it as well. It’s clever and fun, but not overly profound. It comes across as if John Hughes had bothered to make a movie about a gay Ferris Bueller. You can imagine the strengths and weaknesses of that idea. Moonlight was a recent film that was also about a young man dealing with his sexuality, but that one again was more artistically shot as well as dealt with the issue for a low income minority. Love, Simon is free from a lot of those more gritty social issues. Much like those aforementioned John Hughes movies, we’ve got teenagers here who don’t have to worry about money or drugs or some of the truly dark sides of the world. It’s not that kind of movie.
Love, Simon has it’s charms. There is some funny supporting work by some of the adult performers like Tony Hale as the Vice Principal and Natasha Rothwell as a motor mouthed no-nonsense Drama teacher. And the teenagers in this story are very watchable. Their banter is clever. They have genuine chemistry. If this was told with a little more artistry and subtlety, this movie could be great instead of merely good.