Everyone deserves a great love story...
Simon (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) is an ordinary high school student. He has a family that he actually likes and a group of friends with whom he does things that a group of friends should do.
Simon is the kind of kid you can't help but fall in love with, something that was true for me over and over and over again in director Greg Berlanti's wonderfully emphathetic and sweetly funny adaptation of Becky Albertalli's YA novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," a book I instantly went out and purchased following my viewing of Love, Simon.
I cried, sobbed really, fairly often throughout Love, Simon, though not because I've ever come out and not because I've ever needed to but because Love, Simon is such a lovingly produced piece of radically inclusive cinema that I felt like a better human being for having watched it and I saw pieces of my own life and love journey while watching Simon's own journey toward discovering himself, acknowledging himself, sharing himself with others and, yes, learning that he's a fucking masterpiece just the way he is.
The truth is that I pondered how to tell the story of Love, Simon without acknowledging Simon's own essential truth because I knew that even among my enlightened readership that there would be those who would immediately dismiss Love, Simon solely because it is an entertaining, light teen rom-com with a central character who is gay.
I realized, of course, that to not acknowledge Simon's essential truth would be a stunning lack of integrity on my part and a lack of faith in my readers to recognize that, indeed, everyone does deserve a great love story and there's a great love story to be found in Love, Simon.
Love, Simon is the kind of love story involving gay characters that I've longed for on the big screen, less taboo than Brokeback Mountain and far less drippingly melodramatic than Call Me By Your Name. There's a normalcy found within the film that has been woefully lacking within Hollywood's mainstream releases and as I sat back watching this rom-com meets John Hughes comedy I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that nearly everything about the film just feels right.
It helps that Nick Robinson is simply perfect as Simon, the kind of sublimely perfect young man you expect in this sort of teen rom-com even if you've never quite expected him to be gay. Everything you've come to expect from such a teen flick is here, from wild ass parties to nerdy principals to the well meaning yet infinitely clueless parents. Simon's parents, played to perfection by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, are the kind of parents that every teenager craves because they're infnitely loving yet clueless enough that you can actually get away with stuff. While such a performance isn't particularly from Garner, whom I like to refer to as everyone's mom, Duhamel's turn is is an absolute revelation with one scene, in particular, likely existing as some of Duhamel's best work to date. Simon is also gifted with a younger sister, played by Talitha Eliana Bateman, who is rather hilariously obsessed with television's "Top Chef."
While Simon's family is amazing, his friends are equally impressive. Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), and Abby (Alexandra Shipp) are the kind of friends who love one another and aren't ashamed to show it.
If it sounds like there's lots of love to be found in Love, Simon, that is precisely the point. Yet, for Simon it doesn't change the fact that even in a world where he feels accepted as he is there's this one "big ass secret" that has never been safe to disclose despite his gut feeling that his parents would be fine with it and it wouldn't matter to his friends at all.
It would still change things, ya know?
When Simon catches wind of a mysterious someone using the alias of "Blue" is writing on a local electronic messageboard about the challenges of being closeted in Simon's high school, Simon assumes his own alias and, with tremendous hesitation, begins a correspondence. These are scenes fraught with both innocence and tension, first time secrets being told and authentic human connections being made. It is a refreshing gift to the film and its characters that Simon's inevitable relationship with this someone begins in such a way that the relationship is grounded within deep friendship and emotional intimacy long before a physical connection is even contemplated.
Being that this is a teen rom-com, there will come the inevitable challenge to be faced in the form of a potential outing long before Simon is ready for such an outing to occur. These scenes are among the film's most challenging, perhaps necessary yet also somewhat altering of the film's relentlessly optimistic and love-affirming tone.
Director Greg Berlanti has been responsible for such television series as Riverdale and Dawson's Creek and he masterfully respects the emotional journeys of his teenage characters here. The screenwriting team of Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, of such efforts as This is Us and About a Boy, creates some of the year's best dialogue with seamlessly interwoven emotional depth being a constant companion to the film's many laughs. There's an intimacy to the dialogue that feels honest, as if we're truly watching relationships unfold that have been years in the works.
Love, Simon isn't the kind of "coming out" story we usually get from Hollywood. It's not that those other films aren't important - they are. But Love, Simon is a "mainstream" film with a mainstream story featuring mainstream characters having real life experiences.
There is so much more that I'd like to say about Love, Simon, though it's also the kind of film that is best freshly experienced without advance knowledge of how conflicts will be resolved, secrets will be revealed, and just who that mysterious "Blue" really is. Suffice it to say that the revelation caused an outburst of joy and applause in the screening I attended, a reaction and response that actually occurred several times throughout the film.
While I've never struggled myself with this notion of coming out, I found my own life experiences inevitably peeking out both during the screening of Love, Simon and in the time since having watched the film. As an adult with a disability who has always struggled with presenting an authentic self in romantic relationships, I found myself more than once laughing and crying, laughing and cry with some sense of intimate familiarity with Simon's journey.
Love, Simon is easily one of early 2018's best films and seems destined to be one of the best rom-coms of the year. It's a film filled to the brim with hopefulness and heart, laughter and love, authenticity and a sense of wonder at this thing called love. In one scene, in particular, Jennifer Garner so succinctly states one of the most gorgeous lines ever when she looks over at this son whom she loves beyond measure and says "You can exhale now, Simon."
And there I go, laughing and crying once again.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic