Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
Very rarely will you hear people saying, “I needed this film” in a serious sense. Sure filmmaking has always paralleled real life, but not like this. The teen romance sub-genre of the romantic comedy is one that is not uncommon and usually follows the standard coming-of-age narrative that ends with the two protagonists securing their relationship. But this is a different coming-of-age story. This is a story that beats more deftly than other entries in the well documented genre and it all revolves around a closeted gay teenager. Above all else, Love, Simon represents a massive landmark for film diversity, crafting a story that proves romantic films are no longer specifically for straight people. It is a predictable narrative but one that the world could use right now.
Love, Simon centers on 17 year old Simon Spier, a closeted gay teenager in high school. While trying to balance his friends, family and school work, Simon faces a blackmailer who threatens to out him to the entire school if he does not cooperate. On top of that, he sets out on a journey to discover the identity of the anonymous classmate whom he has fallen in love with online. Simon’s efforts to resolve both issues result in hilarious, terrifying and life-changing ramifications.
As I said above, the romantic coming-of-age narrative is nothing new to cinema. The formula may seem tired when yet another Nicholas Sparks book adaptation makes its way into theatres, but Love, Simon manages to superbly take the story and focus on the one thing that separates it from the rest, the romantic journey of a gay teenager. The story feels fresh because it is so rare that something like Love, Simon hits theatres. The plot is more or less predictable in the sense that it is fairly easy to predict where the story will head. A secret love leads to bad decisions which leads to more bad decisions and ends with someone falling in love. What is new however the impact these decisions have on its characters is. When hiding a massive secret from your family and friends like your sexuality, it is easy to understand why these characters act the way they do. That is not to say that you will agree with every choice someone makes, but it is possible to understand their point of view.
This being the first studio-produced, teen targeted rom-com, Love, Simon is a groundbreaking feature that essentially normalizes what teenagers experience in what is usually some of the hardest years of their life. A film like this will most likely be commented and analyzed from a myriad of viewpoints and, while it may catch some flak for casting a straight actor as its gay lead, there is no doubt that is a massive win for diversity in film. It demonstrates a John Hughes-vibe about the subject of sex and the fact that maturing is a natural part of life and to love whoever you want, no matter what.
As for the cast, Nick Robinson is a charming lead and you will find yourself immediately identifying with the character’s happiness as well as his problems that come with keeping a secret. He is wonderfully touching as he comes to terms with accepting who he is and Robinson sells the “just like you” attitude nicely. Kathrine Langford stars as Simon’s best friend and, like her role in 13 Reasons Why, expertly exhibits her range and depth when taking on a new character. Simon’s parents are played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel and both are equally great as the supportive parenting duo. Essentially playing the kind of parents every kid dreams of, Garner and Duhamel’s characters are understanding, open-minded and loving, ready to greet Simon’s news with open arms. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Keiynan Lonsdale whose mysterious, down to earth character is an absolute treat to watch. Being a dedicated member of the LGBTQ community, it is clear that Lonsdale gave it his all in the role as he has been outspoken about the industry’s need for diversity and inclusion.
At its core, director Greg Berlanti, an openly gay man himself, aimed to provide viewers with an empowering feature about the process of coming out. And for some fans, this is a film that will help normalize their lives. The targeted audience is probably the same age as Simon and his crew which only enhances the realism and authenticity the film is striving for. Berlanti poured his heart into this film and fully realizes his potential as a great film director destined for great things.
Love, Simon may be a film that treads on familiar waters with its formulaic plot, but its message, along with superb performances, a fantastic soundtrack and its dedication to equality elevate this film above other romantic comedies. It is a film that opens the door for more LGBTQ stories to be told and celebrates self-awareness. Once again, the John-Hughes high school vibe is on full display and Love, Simon represents a long awaited, successful milestone for inclusion and diversity in the film industry.
Nick’s Rating – 7.7/10
What did you think of Love, Simon? Let us know in the comments down below!