There have been an array of coming-of-age stories dealing with the varying aspects of youth. One area that has been covered in coming-of-age tales on the screen has been the struggle of gay youth coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out of the closet. However, those tales are usually reserved for more serious types of movies with awards potential and R ratings because they’re geared towards adults. With Love, Simon, director Greg Berlanti pushes the boundaries of teenage cinema with his adaptation of the Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda to deliver a funny, moving coming out, coming-of-age tale that is geared for a teenage audience. Love, Simon is a leap forward for representation on the screen that is highly entertaining and surely to infuriate many of the most regressive voices within the religious right.
Simon (Nick Robinson) is “just like you,” he says in the film’s opening where he introduces his family as Brenton Wood’s “Oogum Boogum” plays. His father Jack (Josh Duhamel) was the star quarterback who married the valedictorian Emily (Jennifer Gardner) and then had Simon and his younger sister Nora (Talitha Eliana Bateman). They’re a loving family unit, with Jack cracking bad dad jokes, Emily being a nurturing intellectual presence in the house, and Nora’s interest in cooking nourished by her family even when the results aren’t particularly good. Simon also has a close-knit group of friends. There’s his longest friend Leah (Katherine Langford), his jock friend Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), and the recent transfer student Abby (Alexandra Shipp). But Simon is holding onto a secret – he’s gay. When a gossip site that covers his school posts an anonymous letter from another closeted student called Blue, Simon begins to engage in anonymous emails with his fellow closeted student.
What’s so wonderfully brilliant about Love, Simon, aside from its ample sense of humor, is the fact that Simon isn’t closeted because of some fear of unsupportive, homophobic parents. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The same is true of Simon’s close friends. He’s surrounded by people who love and care for him. His choice to remain closeted is entirely his own. Simon’s life and thus the film’s story gets a bit more complicated when Martin (Logan Addison) gets screenshots of Simon’s emails with Blue and threatens to out him unless he assists Martin in courting Abby, who is very disinterested in the brash outcast. Fear of being outed causes Simon to create a number of lies between his friends, something that will come back and bite him. These choices that Simon goes through creates a story where the character’s inability to be open about himself creates a compounding set of lies. And yet the film never strains with this dramatic through line nor is it heavy-handed in using its story to establish its point.
As Simon ensnares himself in a web of lies between his closest friends, he’s also searching for clues as to the identity of Blue. It brings a sense of suspense to the blend of high school drama and comedy. Older viewers will know almost immediately that Simon is often getting ahead of himself with his assumptions about Blue’s identity, meaning that this likable young man is setting himself up repeatedly for disappointment. You feel for Simon as me make repeated teenage mistakes and root for him despite the fact that he’s lied himself into a corner because he’s been forced into the lies by the unscrupulous blackmail attempt by the often well-intentioned but socially inept Martin.
Love, Simon retains a sense of humor throughout, even when it veers into heavier territory. That’s in large part to a number of the film’s supporting players, such as Tony Hale as the overly excited vice principal and Natasha Rothwell as the sassy drama teacher overseeing a shoddy production of Cabaret. In a movie full of lively and funny performances, Rothwell makes the most of her screen time and winds up stealing every scene she’s in. It’s a testament to the screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker that Love, Simon is able to strike such a deft tonal balance that doesn’t sacrifice its heart for laughs or vice versa.
Best known for his work on television with DC Comics’ slate of superhero shows, Greg Berlanti presents a keen eye as director with his work on Love, Simon. The frames of the film are lively and blocked incredibly well, and Berlanti never wastes an opportunity to allow the images to do the talking instead of the characters. There are flashbacks that come alive through Berlanti’s filmmaking style, such as Simon’s recollection of when he realized he was gay. Then there are a few dynamic sequences that take you by surprise, like one particular fantasy scene that employs a big, colorful dance routine punctuated by a swift punchline.
A kindhearted coming-of-age tale about coming out, Love, Simon exudes warmth and compassion in every one of its frames. However, its depiction of teenage homosexuality, even though it places no real emphasis on sexual encounters, is certain raise the ire of those extremely out of touch individuals that still frown upon homosexuality. Their objections should be ignored because if Love, Simon helps one teenager find the strength to be themselves and come out of the closet, then it has earned its worth. Love, Simon works well for everyone and will certainly touch quite a few hearts and tickle a few funny bones along the way. This is a film that could’ve been compromised and watered down along the way, but Berlanti and his collaborators ensured that this magical little film about being true to yourself was, in fact, true to itself.