The best feel-good “coming out” film of the year….or ever!
Directed by: Greg Barlanti
We’ve all seen the high school film. There are many to choose from over the years, and often can have a profound effect on how we view society. That’s not just for the teens, either. Looking back at films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Clueless, and even Napoleon Dynamite, we can see how they have each made indelible impacts on the culture. Probably none more so than the John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Lately, high school films have continued the tradition of John Hughes’ impact of dealing with weightier stuff. The Fault in Our Stars, Me Earl & the Dying Girl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Juno have dealt with things like cancer, one’s sexuality, and teen pregnancy. The latest film in this vein comes wrapped up in a nice and shiny veneer, where the subject is just as weighty, but the characters that populate the film are the type of people you would love to surround yourself with. Teen angst is out. Hope and possibilities abound.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson-The Kings of Summer, Jurassic World) is the all-American teenager. He’s got a great family with a valedictorian mom, Emily (Jennifer Garner-Juno, 13 Going on 30), the former quarterback father, Jack (Josh Duhamel-Transformers), and a precocious younger sister, Nora (Talitha Eliana Bateman-Annabelle: Creation), who is trying her hand at being a young chef.
Simon is also surrounded by a close-knit group of friends including Leah (Katherine Langford-13 Reasons Why), Abby (Alexandra Shipp-X-Men: Apocalypse, Tragedy Girls), and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.-Brigsby Bear, Spider-man: Homecoming). Everything seems to be going for Simon, except for the huge secret that he has been carrying around: he’s gay. At the end of his high school years, Simon is looking to keep everything status quo for as long as he can. After high school seems like a better time for him to come clean about his secret with his family and friends since its a natural time of change anyway. Until then, he quickly changes the subject, or rolls his eyes when his dad asks him about hot models, girlfriends, or makes references about pop-culture icons being “fruity”, or when friends make random comments.
Simon is alerted to an anonymous post on the local social media site that his classmates use where the poster announces that he is gay. Going by the name “Blue”, his post resonates with Simon and Simon quickly adopts the anonymous posting name of “Jacques” where he opens an email account and begins conversing with “Blue”. As they open up to each other, it forces Simon to confront the truth that he longs to share, but is scared of changing the way things are between he and his family, his friends, and how people view him at school.
With each new correspondence, Simon begins to look at various classmates trying to perceive who “Blue” might be. Once convinced he’s found Blue, Simon quietly begins to get his hopes up as he is falling for this mysterious email pen pal. When Martin Addison (Logan Miller-Before I Fall), the annoying theater kid with a crush on Abby, threatens to expose Simon to everyone, after finding the email exchange on a school computer and saving them to his phone with a screen-shot, unless Simon helps him win over Abby (who is really crushing on Nick), Simon is left in a precarious position. Does he let this guy hit on Abby, hurting Nick, so that he can protect his secret, and the secret of “Blue”, or does he let Martin “out-him” to the entire school and ruin his status quo he has been fighting so hard to maintain?
Even though there is a definite conflict inherent in all of this, as well as the fact that Leah has had a crush on Simon for years, and doesn’t know that he is gay, there is no teen angst. These are not the dark, emo-types of teenage films of the past struggling with identity acceptance while hiding themselves away from the world. Refreshingly, this is a film that prides itself on being just another teenage romantic-comedy where the protagonist just happens to be a gay male. They are still teenagers, and everything is awkward, and everyone is struggling with their identity. And while the main conflict revolves around Simon’s sexuality, the film feels just like any other heartwarming teen love story.
It may be accused of playing things too safe, but Love, Simon doesn’t shy away from the deeper struggles every teenager faces as they are becoming adults and trying to figure out not only their identity, but where their place is in their world. This struggle is ever present but presented with a lot of humor, hope, and eternal optimism. None seem to embody this optimism more in the film than Tony Hale’s (Arrested Development, Veep) character, Principal Worth. Nothing smells like the teen spirit of my high school years in the 1990’s with its angst, worry, cynicism, and depression.
Love, Simon approaches things just like any other rom-com would, albeit from a slightly different vantage point than we have seen in the past. For this reason, it allows for its message to not be heavy-handed, or come off as a film trying to make deep in-roads into the culture for the LGBT movement. Instead, it may end up accomplishing all of that by simply being itself, and presenting it all in a charming, yet authentic way. And while not as powerful of a moment as the father/son talk in Call Me By Your Name, the mother/son, and later father/son, talks in Love, Simon are every bit as important and meaningful. By the time the credits roll, smiles will be on the faces of all who see the film, and Love, Simon will have secured its place among the many other iconic teenage-based films across the years.