FILM REVIEW – LOVE, SIMON. With Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Logan Miller. Written by Elizabeth Berger & Isaac Aptaker. Directed by Greg Berlanti. Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril. 109 minutes.
LOVE, SIMON takes the standard Hollywood coming-of-age movie set in high school and gives it a fresh spin by making the main storyline about its protagonist coming out as gay. We’ve seen secondary characters who were either implicitly or explicitly gay, and there was the recent arthouse hit “Call Me By Your Name,” but by placing its gay character front-and-center in a mainstream movie pitched to teen audiences, this is a landmark.
Simon (Nick Robinson) informs us he’s a typical teenager counting down the days to graduation. However, he has a secret he hasn’t shared with anyone – he’s gay. Through an online site geared toward local teens, he discovers someone calling himself “Blue” who is similarly closeted. They start writing to each other and one of the plotlines is Simon trying to figure out who Blue might be.
Making his life difficult is Martin (Logan Miller), who discovers the online correspondence on a library computer and threatens to reveal Simon’s secret unless he helps Martin connect with Abby (Alexandra Shipp), a new girl in school. This leads to Simon lying to his friends to prevent Martin from posting his identity, and you don’t have to have seen many movies to know how that’s going to turn out.
In many ways, this is a conventional movie done well. There’s a good deal of comic relief, with Natasha Rothwell a standout as a teacher directing a painful high school production of “Cabaret.” Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner may be idealized parents for Simon, but each gets a touching moment where they have to face who their son is and decide how to respond. There are also complications involving his friends, well-acted by Katherine Langford as a childhood friend who doesn’t suspect Simon’s secret, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. whom he misdirects as a result of Martin’s blackmail.
The film’s major flaw is that of many a Hollywood high school movie in that these “typical” students are all decidedly upper middle class, with spacious suburban homes and little concern about money. In fact, at the start of the film, Simon’s parents present him with a new car. It may be a racially diverse cast, but economically, the characters and their families are doing better than many of the people likely to see the film.
That presumably allows the filmmakers to focus on Martin’s dilemma, and Robinson successfully conveys the difficulty of all adolescents in figuring out who they are and how they fit in. There’s only a token reference to any homophobia at his high school, and the miscreants are dealt with quickly. Our attention remains on Simon and how he will navigate his situation. Teen viewers, whether gay or not, should be able to relate to how it all works out, with even Martin getting a chance at redemption.
“Love, Simon” is special precisely because it doesn’t make a fuss over the fact that it’s the story of a gay teen coming out. It’s not an “issue” movie, nor is it making a big statement. In fact, simply by being a typical, if entertaining, high school movie, it may be making its most important statement of all.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.