What it's about: Simon Spier is a self-proclaimed regular high school kid with a big secret: he's gay. After a classmate anonymously comes out of the closet on a local gossip blog, Simon is inspired to reach out. While keeping his true sexual identity from his friend circle and family, he finds himself falling for the freeness of the secret conversation he is sharing. But when another student accidentally stumbles on what Simon is hiding, his emotional inner life and his privilege to tell his own story is threatened.
When I first saw the trailer for Love, Simon, I wasn't expecting this movie to be some sort of groundbreaking mainstream event. But when I thought about all the serious gay films that have come out in recent years, I eventually realized that Love, Simon definitely has different aims and a different audience. Indie darlings like Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name [among many others] have certainly put a cinematic spotlight onto gay stories, but this feels new because it plainly takes the tropes of worn mainstream genres [the rom-com and the high school comedy, specifically] and claims it for a new group of people.
What Love, Simon means for some became incredibly clear to me when I entered a mostly full theater on a Tuesday evening and noticed that there were many more same sex couples than you'd usually see going to the movies -- and the diversity of age and race especially pointed to how this was a broad, mainstream experience.
This audience was with Love, Simon from start to finish, giving the screening a really fun energy. The reactions to the big dramatic moments really drove home that the film was working on a personal, relatable level. The particular reveal the entire film is heading toward [who is the person on the other end of Simon's heartfelt messages] was met with rapturous applause and it is actually earned.
Being comfortable in fully being a rom-com means taking on the genre's warts, too. This means a terrible pop soundtrack, cloying side characters, silly plot contrivances where characters don't listen to each other to add dramatic stakes, and an underwritten best friend [though that the female best friend is the best friend of a male character at least has something of a twist to the convention] are all here.
One convention that Love, Simon can't avoid is the dorky adults in a high school comedy -- a trope that is painfully annoying to me. Tony Hale as the school's vice principal has some comedic moments that land though the trying hard to be hip character becomes a bit too much of a caricature at times. Josh Duhamel, surprisingly enough, hits a perfect balance of genuine and comic relief cliche as Simon's dorky dad and Jennifer Garner is great as his invested mother. It is Natasha Rothwell as a drama teacher that steals the show, though. I'm not sure if any teacher speaks to her students the way she does without any repercussions but she is amazingly fun.
Gmail plays a big part of the film and it is kind of silly -- not Lion silly, but still silly.
Also, do high school rumor blogs still exist? There was one when I was in high school but that was more than 15 years ago.
Love, Simon deserves some comparison to films like The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird, though I don't think it is quite as sharp or cinematically stylish and it definitely isn't as consistently funny. This does have some flourishes, though, especially a fantasy sequence where Simon imagines going off to college where he can finally start over as his real self. This is a brief moment in the film, but it is a clever exploration on that theme that covers more ground than just Simon's specific outlook.
The way the film tackles the challenge of characters reading e-mails is interesting formally, as well. Throughout the film, as Simon learns more about his anonymous pen pal while keeping his own identity secret from him, he brings his curiosity to everyday normal interactions. We then see these potential possibilities as the ones crafting their conversation. It is a pretty small touch but it adds a bit of emotional complexity and vulnerability to Simon, who slowly tries to open himself up more in the outside world. And it isn't overplayed as a mystery to be solved even as that is where the film is obviously building toward.
Nick Robinson, who I've previously seen in Jurassic World and The Kings of Summer [he's also been in a few unsuccessful teen-driven films], really shines in the title role. It is hard to describe exactly why his performance is so extraordinarily good but the best I can point to is that he is a comfortable presence. Because of the kind of film Love, Simon is, it would have been really easy for him to just put on puppy dog eyes in place of genuine likability but he never goes there. He's a well-rounded character, emotionally complex, a realistic high school kid that can be a bit of an outcast even with leading-man looks and charisma.