Director: Greg Berlanti
Cast: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Tony Hale, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller
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Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon is the first mainstream, studio-made teen rom-com with a gay protagonist. That’s both ground-breaking and culturally significant in and of itself, but the genius of Love, Simon lies in its casual matter-of-factness, the way it cheerfully normalises its own story, allowing it to sit happily alongside all the other classic teen movies that have come before it.
The film is directed by Greg Berlanti, who’s something of an expert at this sort of thing, having made similar steps toward mainstream representation of gay and bisexual characters on superhero shows Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. Set in the suburbs of Atlanta, it stars Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson as Simon Spier, a 17-year-old high school kid who informs us, in voiceover, that he’s just like everyone else, except for one gigantic secret: he’s gay.
Given Simon’s ultra-liberal parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and super-cool friends – childhood bestie Leah (13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford), sporty Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and artsy Abby (Alexandra Shipp) – his reticence in coming out may seem a little surprising, but nonetheless, Simon isn’t yet ready. Instead, he finds solace in an email relationship with “Blue”, another in-the-closet student at his high school who makes an anonymous post online, confessing his sexuality. However, when school weirdo Martin (Logan Miller) discovers his secret and blackmails him into setting him up with Abby, Simon’s actions threaten to split his friends apart.
The young cast are as uniformly excellent as they are uniformly good-looking. Robinson makes an extremely likeable lead, ensuring that we’re on his side throughout, even when his friends have every right to be annoyed with him (his obliviousness to Leah’s crush on him nods to how self-centred he can be). Duhamel and Garner are both terrific as Simon’s parents and the film uses them well, aware of the stinging significance of even a throwaway comment (at one point Duhamel jokingly describes someone as “fruity” and the audience winces in sympathy). There’s also strong comic support from both Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell as Simon’s teachers.
Suffusing the film with appealingly bright colours and creating a cheerfully breezy atmosphere, Berlanti directs with a commendable lightness of touch throughout, drawing big laughs from Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker’s frequently very funny script. Similarly, the warm humour and general sweetness displayed by the characters is infectious, resulting in a film that fills you with happiness and leaves you grinning from ear to ear. Even the film’s nominal villain, Martin, is ultimately shown to be sympathetic, his unpleasant actions the result of loneliness and desperation.
Throughout the film, there are several nice touches, such as the way the film cleverly allows Simon to effectively have crushes on multiple people, as he projects who he thinks Blue might be onto various likely candidates, with Blue’s voiceover changing along with each one. The inclusion of the school’s one out-and-proud gay student (Clark Moore) – a sympathetic ear, but not Simon’s type – is another nice touch, while the finale of the film is understated and pretty much note-perfect.
It’s fair to say that the spirit of John Hughes is very much alive in Love, Simon, which closely mirrors the classic teen movies and is simultaneously charming, warm-hearted and very funny. As for its significance, a quick glance at the #LoveSimon hashtag on Twitter immediately confirms its cultural value in terms of mainstream representation, making it exactly the sort of film that would have been a lot of use to its own protagonist. A quietly unassuming triumph.