The trials and tribulations of coming into age can be difficult and/or rewarding depending on the adolescent coming into their own as they phase from childhood to adulthood. Hollywood has taken this theme and made an entire genre (and subgenre) of films about this subject going all the way back to 1950’s with films like Rebel Without a Cause, while the stories evolved to fit the appropriate decade and many relatable scenarios were brought to the screen. However, (not on the mainstream side of cinema) almost all high school movies don’t dabble in the struggles of the LGBTQ teens who are coming into their own sexuality and the anxiety that kids have while wanting to come out. Love, Simon is the film that gives LGBTQ members a lead character that struggle with his feelings and confronting his own sexual identity and it not be cliched, stereotypical, or degrading. On the flip side though, if you’re looking for a film that’s going to break the formula that’s been present in a lot of YA (non-dystopian) films lately (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, etc) with this concept, then Moonlight is still king.
Love, Simon is the film adaptation of the novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, about Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson) who’s seventeen, has longtime friends, liberal parents, and a pretty situated life at his high school. The big dilemma though is that he’s a closeted gay teen. At start of the film, he manages to awkwardly hide his secret until another closeted gay teen under the pseudonym Blue posts on Tumblr about being gay, but never revealing his true identity. Simon in a need to reach out and reaches to Blue and starts an online pen pal relationship with him. As Blue and Simon forge a bond, another hiccup occurs in that Simon is blackmailed by his classmate Martin (Played by Logan Miller) after taking snapshots of his open emails and threatening to publish them if he doesn’t help him hook up with Abby (Played by Alexandra Shipp). While this is going on, Simon is trying to play subtle Sherlock Holmes to figure out who the elusive Blue is.
Director Greg Berlanti (most notable for his work on the CW superhero universe) and screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger have crafted a tremendous balancing act here where he immereses us into a character’s life and struggles that are not common in most people, but makes the representation of his protagonist earnest, compelling, and relatable to any viewer watching. It also helps that Robinson is giving one of his best performances as he basically just charms us with likability and empathy throughout his performance. Robinson isn’t the only person on his A-game, the entire cast came to play. Alexandra Shipp, Katherine Langsford , and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. give really good supporting performances as Simon’s friends Abby, Leah, and Nick and the script allows them to play fully developed characters who feel like real teens.
Also on the parents side you have Jennifer Garner playing the mother Emily (who gives a speech to Simon that I think every person who feels underrepresented or having to put themselves before others a lot needs to hear) and then you have Josh Duhamel who just nailed it as Simon’s dad Jack who carries the macho tough gen X male character role very well and conveys extreme pathos for his character as he realizes his maucho mannerism has been the source of his son’s distance relationship. However, despite an impressive supporting cast, I would be amissive if i didn’t bring up three scene steelers in the movie. Obviously, Tony Hale as the Principal who tries to relate to his kids, but fails as he just comes off out of touch and misinformed. Natasha Albright as the theatre instructor Mrs. Albright who’s every line had me and every theatre patron just hallowling with laughter.
Minor Spoilers ahead….
Then there’s Logan Miller who plays “The Adorkable Misogynist” (click here for more info) character Martin subtly well. Martin on the surface is portrayed as someone who has adorable and endearing character traits as he tries and fails to pursue Abby, but on subtextually he’s the antagonist here as he’s the one blackmailing Simon and unintentionally causing friction between Simon and his friends. Constantly asking Abby out, despite denying his advances, and trying to be outside of who he is to attract others to look at him. It’s actually a very interesting take on a antagonist since a lot of characters like Martin in other high school movies (particularly in Weird Science) frame these characters as heroes or people worth following despite their creepy obsessions with female characters. Here, it’s clear that Berlanti and his writers want to critique this kind of character and challenge viewers who have been charmed by this personality for years. The portrayal does have a couple moments where it breaks from subtextually to textuality when the character has lines of dialogue that would be akin to a trump rally speech. However, when it does happen it works very well. It just goes to show Berlanti’s confidence that the most challenging part he wants people to grapple with in his “coming out” film would be to look at the character that who’s adorably funny as maybe something that needs to be addressed, challenge, and/or changed and not the character coming out, because he hopes his non-LGBTQ audience members are sophisticated enough to accept follow the coming out aspect of the story without a second hesitation.
Love, Simon is the answer that I think the LGBTQ has been mostly looking for in mainstream studio-broad cinema. Yes, there’s films out there that have a much more authentic and more immersive insight into being closeted. Oscar-winner of 2017 Moonlight, was much more immersive in the experience that Love, Simon is trying to convey. However, cinema has never given a wide release to a high school movie where it normalizes homosexuality and celebrates the liberation of being able to love people differently than your friends and family. It doesn’t hand Simon a free pass. When Simon is outed as being gay; his friends rightfully denounce him for other reasons that don’t have to do with his sexuality. While the film does have familiar plot structures that are present in other coming of age high school movies, even though that’s the point. Love, Simon is both unique and typical, because of Berlanti’s uses the coming of age film formula about adolescents who are phasing from childhood to adulthood (as they discover their own identity and feelings) can watch and hopefully realize that being different is not to be feared or to self-loathe about and those who are closer to normal just have to come to terms it’s not about 100% about them.
Disclaimer: If you’ve ever been wanting to see diversity manifested…bring tissues as the final scene will leave you in tears of joy. Actually, bring just tissues in general. That monologue Garner has rivals the ending monologue that Stuhlbarg had in Call Me By Your Name.