Mark Reviews Movies

Love, Simon


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Greg Berlanti

Cast: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Keiynan Lonsdale, Talitha Bateman, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Joey Pollari, Miles Heizer 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 3/16/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 15, 2018

The charming and compassionate Love, Simon feels revolutionary. Here's a mainstream romantic comedy, focused on the romantic aims of a group of teenagers, that happens to feature a gay character at its center. The character's sexual orientation is of primary concern to the film, but that's not all there is to Simon Spier (Nick Robinson). He wants a normal life. He's worried about graduating from high school and all of the changes that are bound to come from that. Above all else, perhaps, he wants love—from his family, from his friends, and, if he can publicly admit what he has privately realized about four years ago, from a guy whom he may or may not have met yet.

The film is so straightforward and features a character who's so relatable that it and he might have the power to change a few hearts and minds. For everybody else, director Greg Berlanti's film serves as something of a watershed moment. It's a film released by a major studio that doesn't see a gay character as a joke, a sidekick, or an outsider. Instead, Simon is the hero of his own story—a good kid with a solid head on his shoulders, a loving heart, and a legitimate struggle to balance the truth of himself and the way that others have seen him for years.

Since it's a romantic comedy, the story features a gimmick, naturally. This one is solid. While still keeping his sexuality a secret, Simon learns of an anonymous post on a gossip blog for his school. Someone has come out of the proverbial closet to his peers, but he's not ready to attach his name and face to that announcement. Simon can relate, since he hasn't told anyone that he's gay. He starts a new, anonymous email account to begin a correspondence with the guy, who only calls himself "Blue."

There's a lot to this gimmick. The screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (adapting Becky Albertalli's novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) uses the stream of emails as a way to communicate Simon's hopes and fears. He's convinced that none of his friends will have an issue with him being gay. Leah (Katherine Langford) has been Simon's friend for over a decade, so she has been with him through a lot of stuff—both good and bad. Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is sympathetic companion, who's willing to trust Simon with his crush for the group's newest friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp). Abby is an outsider in town, having transferred to the gang's school following her parents' messy divorce, so to a degree, she would understand what Simon is experiencing.

Meanwhile, Simon's parents Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (Josh Duhamel) may look like the perfect example of the "normal" family, but they're open-minded (Emily is a therapist and participates in protests, and behind his average-man exterior, Jack is a softy at heart). His younger sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) adores her older brother.

Simon's fear, then, isn't of rejection or being socially ostracized. It's the simple, crushing fear of change. These are the things he relates to Blue, and from their back-and-forth emails, the two begin to work up the courage to actually take some small but difficult steps to make those necessary changes in their lives. As Simon realizes that he has feelings for the guy on the other end of the text of these emails, he starts looking for suspects among his classmates.

Robinson's performance is deceptively simple. On the face of it, he's playing the charming lead in a romantic comedy, but beneath that, he has to communicate the delicate dance of revealing just enough to the guys he thinks might be Blue, without giving away too much in case he's wrong.

One will notice that there are plenty of complications and sources of conflict within this setup, and the refreshing thing about them is that they're all related to how Simon interacts with the world around him, his internal doubts and hopes, and how he changes over the course of the story. This, unfortunately, brings us to the film's one but nearly disastrous flaw. It comes in the personage of Martin (Logan Miller), a classmate who learns Simon's secret by happening across the emails. In a film filled with identifiable and sympathetic characters, Martin sticks out like the creep that he is. He decides to blackmail Simon, hoping to get Simon's help in gaining the affections of Abby.

There's nothing to like about Martin, and there's even less to like about his role in the plot. He's an additional source of conflict in a film that doesn't need the added burden. His machinations force Simon to behave in underhanded ways toward his friends, which ends up adding even more complications once they're revealed. It's strange that Berger and Aptaker, who trust this central character enough to make his internal life the primary source of the film's conflict, would include such a derailing presence here. The best way to look at Martin is as some grotesque parody of the stereotypical romantic-comedy lead (with his grand, ill-thought-out, and uncomfortable gestures), but even on that level, he's just a distraction.

The good news is that the rest of the film more than makes up for its clumsy misstep. Love, Simon genuinely cares about the difficulties and dreams of its main character, and it respects him enough to let his voice be heard. It may seem like a simple idea, but change has to start somewhere.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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