REVIEW: Love, Simon – A Smart and Sweet Coming Out Story

Even as sexuality has become a less taboo topic in media, and as activists win small victories in real life, finding an LGBT love story with a happy ending is often as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why Love, Simon is such a breath of fresh air, even in an age where social media makes younger generations feel safer about coming out.

The friends everyone deserves.

The story, based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, is a rather simple one: a teenager named Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) starts exchanging emails with an anonymous kid at school who is closeted, just like him, and they slowly fall in love even as he struggles to keep his secret from friends and family. It’s the kind of story that been seen in plenty of teen dramas – A Cinderella Story comes to mind – but it’s elevated by more than just the fact that Simon is gay. Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger & Isaac Aptaker take what could easily have become a hackneyed script and turn it into a fresh and fun look at sexuality, high school and the power of technology, while director Greg Berlanti gets the best possible performances out of an almost uniformly excellent cast.

Having not read the novel, I had no idea what to expect upon entering the theater, and I’m happy to say I was surprised in the best way possible. Berlanti is best known for producing CW shows which often border on cheesy however heartfelt they may be, but he shows that he really knows how to mine great material in Love, Simon. Nick Robinson gives a lovely and understated portrayal that captures all of Simon’s fears and yearnings, and both his work and the script make it easy to understand why he keeps himself guarded without demonizing his family. Jennifer Garner gives an especially touching performance as Simon’s mom Emily, while Josh Duhamel’s more comedic Jack serves to showcase how hurtful well-meaning jokes can be. Not only that, the film also includes an already-out character named Ethan (Clark Moore) who “makes it seem easy” for Simon despite going through personal struggles that others may not notice at first glance. It’s nice to see the story deal with various gay characters without reducing any of them to a stereotype, and it’s even better than the cast is filled with genuinely funny actors who can ensure that several almost-corny jokes land. Natasha Rothwell specifically deserves a shoutout for making tired drama teacher Ms. Albright feel like a living, breathing, three-dimensional woman who has had it up to here with talentless and mannerless students.

When you really hope that dude is Blue.

The love story is also especially interesting because so much of it is a guessing game, seeing as Simon has no idea who the “Blue” he’s corresponding with is in real life. With every new interaction, he starts putting a different face to the name and envisioning a different student taking on the mantle. This may have already been a large part of the novel, but it’s even more appropriate for a visual medium, heightening the anticipation of a final reveal and making Blue feel like more of a presence in Simon’s life. As the first candidate, Keiynan Lonsdale gives a particularly memorable performance and imbues Bram with charm, making viewers root for both a potential friendship and romance. It’s particularly poignant because Lonsdale has spoken about how working on Love, Simon helped encourage him to come out, which adds another layer to some already great work. He’s not the only potential love interest, though, and as the film went on I found myself getting sucked into the various options and weighing each candidate as if I were watching a long-running series rather than a 100-minute movie. Even the side plots and other romances have room to breathe, with Katherine Langford breaking a few hearts as the best friend who wishes she was more and Logan Miller perfectly capturing how annoying and selfish Martin’s dogged pursuit of Abby (Alexandra Shipp) is. If there was one main character who was short-changed, it was Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) – but at the same time, there really wasn’t anywhere to fit more of a story for him.

All of this gushing is not to say that Love, Simon is a perfect or Oscar-worthy film, although I may go so far as to claim it contained a more enthusiastic dance number than La La Land. It certainly suffers from a few lulls in the middle and perhaps spent a little too much time on characters like Martin or Vice Principal Worth (Tony Hale), the latter of whom was hilarious but narratively unnecessary. More significantly, Simon does some very hurtful things in his quest to keep his sexuality a secret. I was pleasantly surprised that the script acknowledged how wrong he was, but then his friendships were patched up with relative ease and relatively little effort on his part, which is all too often the case in the denouement. But that’s not hard to forgive when I’m so engrossed in the story and hearing all manner of effusive responses from the audience. It’s clear that this is a tale with the power to touch many who need a reminder that it gets better, and that everyone is worthy of love no matter who they love.

Love, Simon is in theaters across the United States starting March 16, 2018.

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