‘Love, Simon’ Review: Director and HUMANITAS Trustee Greg Berlanti Delivers the Rom-Com Many Have Been Waiting For
There’s a moment in Love, Simon – the film adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – where the titular Simon Spier admits to himself, “I’m done living in a world where I don’t get to be who I am. … I deserve a great love story, and I want someone to share it with.” Some may roll their eyes at the “everyone deserves a love story” rallying cry that’s been at the forefront of the film’s marketing campaign, but it should not be dismissed.
Greg Berlanti, the name behind the Arrow-verse on The CW, has made the superhero landscape more diverse, and he’s doing the same thing for mainstream rom-coms. We’ve seen the age of John Hughes films (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and all the titles they influenced (Mean Girls, Easy A, even Spider-Man: Homecoming). But Love, Simon is a bit different.
The past few years have seen a spike in LGBTQ genre titles like Moonlight, Carol, and Call Me By Your Name, but here’s a story that’s not marketed as Oscar bait from a specialty division of a movie studio. It’s a mainstream title by a prominent distributor (20th Century Fox) that just so happens to focus on a closeted gay teenager. It’s not resigned to a limited release at your not-so local arthouse theater. It’s what my teenage-self surviving high school in a small, rural community with limited access to LGBTQ films and books could’ve used – which is why the impact of Love, Simon outweighs most grievances audiences might have.
Nick Robinson has never quite stood out to me as the leading man Hollywood seems to think he is, even after 2013’s The Kings of Summer. But here, as 17-year-old Simon, he catches your attention.
Simon is blessed with a support system in the form of a mom and dad (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) obsessed with their Bachelor family viewing parties, and he has a tight-knit friend group obsessed with iced coffee. He’s a dedicated brother who happily bears with his sister’s experimental cooking skills, he’s a dedicated friend who ferries his pals to school every morning, and he’s the kind of son who may get drunk at a party but he doesn’t drive drunk and always arrives home before curfew. For the past few years, though, something’s been off.
He’s gay and nobody knows, except for his anonymous online pen pal, a fellow classmate that goes by the name Blue with whom he flirts and commiserates about life. But Simon may no longer be able to hide under the cover of a ghost user name when a classmate approaches him. Martin (Logan Miller) wants Simon’s help landing a date with his friend, Abby (played by the ray of sunshine that is Alexandra Shipp), or else he just might release Simon’s emails with Blue to the school’s gossipy Tumblr site and out him to the world.
Take what you will from the presence of Katherine Langford of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, but the cast of similarly YA genre-friendly actors help paint one side of the film’s intent: tackling a serious topic, like the burden of having to come out, in a way that impacts young viewers. But Love, Simon is closer to something like Easy A.
Like Emma Stone’s Olive in that Will Gluck film, Simon pines for that Hughes-esque romance by fantasizing about which one of his schoolmates could be Blue. There are catchy one-liners (you look like you’ve been “gangbanged by T.J. Maxx”), quirky parents, and an overly pristine suburban. But the quirk isn’t quite as quirky as Easy A, nor is it as quirky as one might expect with a book title like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
Love, Simon tackles real anxieties in a charming way – or as charming as you can get when you’re dealing with high school blackmail and homophobia. But the way it tackles the material through humor and the occasional Whitney Houston musical break doesn’t provide us with much that we haven’t seen before from a movie tapping into that Hughes nostalgia. It does, however, standout on its own because of the material itself.
It’s difficult to set aside my own experience when considering this film. The only indie movie theater close by growing up – a place where a Moonlight or a Call Me By Your Name are typically screened for the general public willing to seek them out – was a 45-minute drive from home and it closed down within a couple years of getting my license. Other teens now won’t have to jump through so many hoops to see Love, Simon.
It’s a film that invites you to make personal connections. It’s a film that captures the anxiety of hearing homophobic rhetoric in the school hallways; it stings, but you can’t address it without painting a target on yourself in the process. It’s a film that recalls the digital safe haven the Internet provides and the breath you’re able to breathe while under the protection of an anonymous online user name in a chatroom. It’s a film that gives LGBTQ kids their own Never Been Kissed moment. (Minor spoiler alert: Yes, there is a moment where the entire school is cheering on Simon as he waits on a Ferris wheel for his prince charming – the sort of attention, by the way, that very few queer teens would want, especially right after coming out. But it’s one of those issues I’ll let slide because, again, the substance is more affecting than the nit-picking.)
It’s a film that gives kids a happy ending that’s so rare for LGBTQ people on film, with back-to-back heart-to-hearts from both Garner and Duhamel that’ll make you want to call up your own parents and blubber together over the phone. It’s a film that, hopefully, will lead to many more like it.