Greg Berlanti’s “Love, Simon” is an adorable teen romance that enthusiastically defies the status quo. Drowning in hetero-normative high school coupling for too long, mainstream audiences finally get to witness a gay coming-of-age love story. Screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger present a unique conceit originating from Becky Albertalli’s “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” novel, one that is anything but foreign to those formerly in the closet. The first serious crush for any gay man or woman is often established in secrecy, anonymity completely protected. For “straight” Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), that means coming clean about his homosexuality to someone occupying the same closet space.
Using the school’s online message boards as a cry for help, a student identifying himself as “Blue” posts about his sexuality. Relieved he’s not the only kid at school grappling with a mutual attraction to men, Simon responds using a clever pseudonym of his own. The two quickly rely on each other to survive the trenches of high school fakeness. Unfortunately, Simon fails to realize the ramifications of divulging all your secrets to one person.
When smarmy classmate Martin Addison (Logan Miller) takes photographic evidence of his email exchange with Blue, Simon plunges further down the rabbit hole of deceit. Martin threatens to release the emails to the entire school unless Simon agrees to play matchmaker for Martin and Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp), Simon’s newest friend. To uphold his blackmail agreement, Simon sabotages a potential love interest and further complicates the feelings of his longtime BFF, Leah Burke (Katherine Langford). Needless to say, Simon’s desire to keep his sexuality under wraps ends up wounding those who would freely accept him.
Although Simon’s actions veer towards regrettable, “Love, Simon” has an earnestness that rarely loses bounce. There’s a soaring idealism in the face of extreme adversity that hasn’t been seen since Josh Boone’s tear-jerking stunner, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Little moments like Simon appreciating his sister Nora’s (Talitha Bateman) cooking obsession truly underscore the movie’s zest for connectivity. Growing up can be terrifying, but our confidence solidifies thanks to the validation and respect from those most dear. “Love, Simon” implores a powerful message of trusting people who like you for what you’ve shown thus far. Adding the knowledge that you’re gay shouldn’t diminish all they’ve come to cherish you for.
As the parents of Simon, Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner play Mr. and Mrs. Spier with varying approaches but one binding thread of offspring support. Duhamel is perfect as the awkward dad overselling his “macho” persona as a means of bonding. It’s not long after that he grasps the foolishness of imposing such toxic masculinity on his emotionally fragile son. Meanwhile, Jennifer Garner churns out a couch-side speech of compassion that will bowl viewers over. Michael Stuhlbarg’s Oscar nomination snub is still a fresh wound, but perhaps it could be slightly mended if Garner makes the following year’s supporting lineup.
It’s only when “Love, Simon” diverts from its protagonist’s critical journey that the movie tends to lose authentic ground. Writing the school’s adult faculty – including a miscast Tony Hale as the vice principal – like they’re characters from NBC’s “Community” frolicking about the halls misappropriates the comedy. The humor should flow from the established atmosphere, not injected aimlessly for desperate laughs. Moreover, Madison is the closest “Love, Simon” comes to featuring a villain, though even his semi-redemptive subplot becomes extraneous. Had the script simply followed The Beatles’ famous mantra, “Love, Simon” would be that much more, well, lovable.
Despite a few qualms that loosen the grip of adoration, “Love, Simon” is a vital piece of LGBTQ youth inspiration. Nick Robinson is exceptional at portraying the inner conflict of a teenager who refuses to let his big secret extinguish the happy parts of himself removed from his sexuality. Expect a flock of closeted teens to “come out” once they overhear their straight peers gushing about the film’s generational significance. “Love, Simon” is destined to join the ranks of casual-viewing classics on a cold day in need of a cuddle-bud. More than that, it’s a giant step forward for a community whose cinematic stories are often relegated to niche markets. In 2018, niche is the new mainstream.
“LOVE, SIMON” IS DISTRIBUTED BY 20TH CENTURY FOX AND RELEASES NATIONWIDE ON MARCH 16TH.