Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Premise: A high school senior (Nick Robinson) struggles with whether or not to announce his homosexuality to his family and friends. He begins an email relationship with an anonymous gay teenager until another student discovers the messages and blackmails him.
What Works: Thirty years ago, filmmaker John Hughes made a name for himself with teenage coming of age pictures like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. These films were generation defining stories of teenage life in the 1980s and were Hughes making films today, Love, Simon is very likely what he would create. The movie has an authentic feel for teenage culture in the late years of the Millennial generation. The filmmakers integrate technology, fashion, and teenage dialect in a way that’s in tune with today’s teenage culture and doesn’t feel artificial. Much of the film’s impression of authenticity is due to its performances. Love, Simon is led by Nick Robinson as a teenager who deliberates how he should reveal his sexual orientation. Robinson is a likeable screen presence and his narration is funny but also touching. He’s paired with equally likable friends played by Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Katherine Langford and the script creates a specific web of relationships between these friends that pays off dramatically. The supporting cast is also quite good including Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as the parents and Tony Hale as the school principal. Another part of Love, Simon’s authentic feel is the way it deals with its subject matter. For a long time, movies about homosexuality have been dominated by victim narratives with GLBTQ characters coping with hate and discrimination. While intolerance is certainly present in Love, Simon, the story is forward looking and reconfigures the gay coming of age story for a generation that has made great strides toward tolerance.
What Doesn’t: While it is admirable that Love, Simon keeps up with popular and generational attitudes about sexuality and gets beyond the victim narrative, the movie doesn’t come up with very much else. The reveal of Simon’s homosexuality has little or no impact of his friendships, his schoolwork, or his home life. Aside from a couple of uncharacterized bullies, no one seems to much care about Simon’s sexual orientation. That may be part of the point but it doesn’t make for a compelling story. The filmmakers may have erred too closely on the side of progressivism. Homophobia is still a part of everyday life but it is blocked out of the film’s sitcom-like bubble of wealthy middle class liberalism. The story has kernels of interesting conflicts but what little drama is conjured is too easily swept away. It is as though the filmmakers deliberately flee from conflict. Compare Love, Simon to Call Me By Your Name, a movie that was also free of the trappings of victim narratives but also had a vivid carnal and emotional center. Everything in Love, Simon wraps up a little too neatly and no one’s actions have any consequences. The result is a story with almost nothing at stake and a movie that is very bland.
Bottom Line: Love, Simon is a good hearted movie with agreeable characters and it moves the GLBTQ genre forward. But it is inoffensive to a fault, sacrificing storytelling drama for the sake of being likable.
Episode: #691 (March 25, 2018)