Powered by a terrific script and brought to life by a charming and winsome ensemble cast, “Love, Simon” is already one of 2018’s most memorable films, but not for the reasons on the surface.
Yes, it’s a romantic high school drama with a gay male character as the lead, and that’s big, because it simply hasn’t been done in feature films.
However, “Love, Simon” is so much more than just a “first in its genre” film. It’s sweet without ever becoming saccharine, funny without ever resorting to broad comedy or parody, and inspiring without ever beating you over the head with a slogan or message.
In short, there’s a lot to like here, and much of it springs from the voice of the titular character.
What’s it about?
Nick Robinson (“Jurassic World”, “The 5th Wave”) plays Simon Spier, a bright, even-keeled 17-year-old doing what most suburban 17-year-olds do day in and day out. They go to school, hang out with friends, take part in after-school activities and spend lots of time on their phones or online.
Simon’s got a great family, a tight-knit group of friends, and he’s generally liked at school, but he’s got a secret from them all – he’s gay. He’s known for a while, but he’s never done anything about it, because he has no idea how to broach the subject with those he’s closest to, much less the world at large.
Things begin to change, however, when he begins corresponding via email with “Blue,” another student at his school who also hasn’t “come out” yet. As they continue to write each other, it becomes clear their connection goes beyond their mutual apprehension about coming out to the world, and Simon soon finds himself consumed with curiosity about Blue’s true identity.
Finding “Blue” boosts Simon’s confidence to the point where he begins to hope he can finally be truthful with everyone, as well as finally be with someone and fall in love. But it’s all jeopardized when his emails to Blue fall into opportunistic hands, and Simon has to scramble not just to protect his own secret, but also his chances for happiness with someone else.
Keeping it “real”
Adapted for the screen from the award-winning 2012 young adult novel “Simon vs. The Homo Sapien’s Agenda” by screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (TV’s “This is Us”), “Love, Simon” preserves the narrative feel of a young adult novel by prioritizing Simon and Blue’s narrative voices via the emails to guide the film’s tone, humor, and romantic tension.
It’s important to note, however, that there’s more going on here than just the romance of their correspondence. This is a film about high schoolers, after all, and so there has to be more than just one drama in play, and what adds to the film’s charm is just how well it balances the two major dramatic questions – who is Blue and how will Simon “come out”—as well as subplots involving other characters.
With all those balls in the air, it’s remarkable that the film stays as focused and consistent in tone and characterization as it does. There are very few false notes or plot beats in “Love, Simon” that feel contrived – it all feels genuine and heartfelt, and that’s a big part of what makes the film so compelling.
Stars in the making
The cast in “Love, Simon” and the film’s director, Greg Berlanti, deserve as much credit as the screenwriters for why this movie works as well as it does.
The charismatic Robinson is immediately likable and sympathetic as Simon, a kid with a good heart who wants to do right by his family and friends while also being true to himself. Robinson is in just about every frame of “Love, Simon,” and his steady presence even in the film’s more difficult emotional scenes helps maintain the film’s tone and authenticity.
Berlanti’s storytelling pace also provides plenty of opportunities for the supporting cast to shine. In particular, Australian actress Katherine Langford (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) and Alexandra Shipp (“X-Men: Apocalypse”) as Simon’s friends Leah and Abby, respectively, make the most of their screen time with stand-out performances, and Logan Miller (TV’s “The Walking Dead”) delivers much of the film’s comic relief as oddball classmate Martin, who has an overly resolute crush on one of Simon’s friends.
In many ways, “Love, Simon” is more deserving of “must-see” status than some of 2018’s bigger, splashier film releases.
Yes, it doesn’t feature blockbuster visuals and moments that need to be experienced IMAX or 3D.
It is, however, a film that people are going to be talking about. Again, it’ll be in the news and all over social media in part because of Simon’s sexual orientation – in fact, that’s likely to drive the conversation about the film in certain sectors.
But it’s not what really makes the film special. That credit goes to the production – writers, director, and cast – who deliver a funny, poignant and inspiring love story that should resonate with audiences who choose to give it a chance.
Starring Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Toby Hale. Directed by Greg Berlanti.
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying.