Director: Greg Berlanti
Screenplay: Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger
Starring: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Tony Hale
Runtime: 110 Minutes
It'll be nice one day when we're able to see romantic comedies like Love, Simon as something dethatched from the context of its own unique selling point; a mainstream romantic comedy in high school following Simon (Nick Robinson) and his relationship with someone online who he hasn’t met yet, where the central romantic couple in question happen to be gay.
But what’s worth celebrating about Love, Simon - beyond its existence at this point in time as a progressive step forward in the mainstream climate - is how it handles the subject matter of the incredibly personal procedure of one’s own "coming out" to the world, and the intimately sympathetic portrayal that the film paints of Simon and his close-knit relationship with his friends and family is a part of what makes the film so enjoyable and uplifting of an experience.
Nick Robinson is really great as Simon, although a straight man he delivers on all the emotionality required to sell his character as someone believably going through a very tough personal trial, something that is worsened by the fact that his secret may be exposed by an insidious blackmailer and rob him of the incredibly personal experience of coming out to his loved ones about his sexuality.
It’s engaging to watch as the complications add up, populated with strong characters played by a terrifically talented and diverse young cast – with heavyweights like Tony Hale as the well-meaning but out-of-touch vice principal, and Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel delivering solid work as Simon’s parents.
Besides its broad-ranging appeal and narrative, where Simon attempting to discover the identity of the anonymous classmate with whom he has fallen in love online, it’s punctuated with big emotional moments but it’s the smaller ones that might stick around the most. Such as Simon’s coming out first to classmate Abby (Alexandra Shipp) over one of his closer friends, and their two-and-fro regarding the reaction one could expect might be one of the sweetest and most honestly revealing character moments of the year so far.
Director Greg Berlanti constructs a realistic interpretation of modern high school environments and the integral prospects and negatives of the influence of technology and instant messaging over our lives, and feels closer in spirit to his debut feature The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy – which also dealt with homosexuality in a unique way for the time – than his lacklustre follow-up work. Although not on script duty, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger’s screenplay is filled with character and warmth as much as it stresses the emotional significance of such events in people’s young lives.
With all this being said, as progressive as the film is in its ideals – although admirably downplaying of its nature as a homosexual love story into something entirely ordinary – the question is raised regarding the audience that it’s speaking too. Even from the tagline of “Everyone deserves a great love story” acts to address a straight audience into the perspective of an onlooker to watch and adore as the gay character finds love in a straight world.
Without giving away too much – even with a generic story structure such as this – the film ends on a declaratory high note on a Ferris wheel where the entire school shows up in support of Simon. But also mirrors the audience’s voyeuristic intent to watch intently as the two newly out gay characters come together. It’s a sensation that the film can’t really lift existing as the entity that it is, while also falling in line with the conventions of the genre, but seeing them as baby steps in a middle-of-the-road way is probably the lighter way to read it rather than something more exploitative.
Love, Simon is a sweet genre film that feels both slight and ardently forward-looking in its methods of representation on screen, with sterling work from its lead and an occasionally witty screenplay to boot. One day we might be able to look back on it as just another feverishly enjoyable romantic comedy, and even without the firm context of the world that it has been born into it still stands as a decent piece of work in its own right.