As a kid of the 80s, I grew up with some of the greatest high school rom-coms made, including PRETTY IN PINK, SIXTEEN CANDLES and SAY ANYTHING. These films found the right mix of humor, drama and teen angst to make them classics. LOVE, SIMON attempts to be this generation’s version of such a film, with mostly positive results.
Here’s the set-up: Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a high schooler with a secret – he’s gay. When he begins an online flirtation with another closeted teen, he must navigate a complicated web of friendships, family, and people who might reveal his secret, all while trying to discover the hidden identity of the other anonymous student. Who is the secret crush? The film finds a very clever way of playing with the audience in a “maybe it’s this person” kind of way, allowing us to see what it might be like IF that person were the anonymous email buddy. Ultimately, only at the climax of the film do we truly learn the identity of this person, a moment which I felt could have been more realistic and poignant than how it was staged. Without spoiling it, I will say that they got it partially right but I would had it be a more private moment between the two students.
Overall, this is a very good film with some very strong performances. Nick Robinson is spot on as Simon, bringing just the right blend of hesitancy and excitement to his journey of self discovery. Katherine Langford, who I found to be outstanding in 13 REASONS WHY, is again very good in the role of Simon’s best friend, who also has a secret (I bet you can guess what it is – it’s one of the standard tropes of teen romantic comedies). Luckily, this is one of the few cliché plot points and I found it predictable but easy to overlook. Where this film excels is in its ability to NOT go for the cliche, whether it is in the plot or its portrayal of a specific stereotype. Everyone in the film is realistic instead of a cardboard cutout of the jock, the nerd, the gay kid, etc. Logan Miller’s Martin reminded me of several characters from the great 80s films of this genre, making him, at least in this film, the modern day equivalent of the roles embodied by Anthony Michael Hall.
Other standouts in the cast include Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mom, Emily, and Josh Duhamel as his dad, Jack. Both have wonderful, heartfelt moments with Simon after he finally comes out to his family. Tony Hale should also be recognized for his hilarious and sometimes creepy vice principal Mr. Worth. We’ve all had that teacher that tried to be “hip” and “cool” for his/her students and fails miserably. He embodies that educator and while he is a bit over-the-top in this role, it works and brings levity at times when the film needs it.
One other thing I appreciated about this film is how it was not preachy at all. There are too many examples these days of entertainment that tries to tell us what to think. LOVE, SIMON never does that. It gives us the story of these very realistic characters and lets us decide how we feel about their choices and beliefs. Even the (now apparently obligatory) Trump reference is one that will not offend either side of the political debate. If there is a message here, it is one of overall acceptance and accepting people as friends and family regardless of their beliefs.
I think that’s a message worth delivering.
***1/2 out of *****
Screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker
Based upon the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli
Directed by Greg Berlanti
Now playing in cinemas nationwide
Photo: Alexandra Shipp as Abby, Nick Robinson as Simon and Katherine Langford as Leah in “Love, Simon”