Synopsis – Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.
My Take – I personally believe the 1980s were the best period for teen comedies. An era where an auteur like John Hughes reigned with classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off among others. While the past decade has been in less generous in this category, with only a few films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Easy A, The Edge of Seventeen and Dope standing out, however, this adaption from Becky Albertalli’s novel, Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, seems like worthy contender to bring the genre back with a bang.
Promoted as the first major studio pic with the widest ever release for a film with a gay teenager as the leading character, this Greg Berlanti (Riverdale, Arrow, The Flash) directed film, is simply the queer John Hughes feel-good film that Hollywood had never given us. While it may brilliantly execute the John Hughes vibe of teen life and teen characters, it is also a very much a progressive, modern-day drama with its gooey romanticism still alive and well. While it provides enough social commentary, it also makes sure that you don’t have to be gay to enjoy it. Earning around $57.5 million on its $17 million budget, this film has also causing such a stir that Hollywood stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Kristen Bell and Matt Bomer bought entire cinema sessions and offered tickets to filmgoers for free.
With director Berlanti the helm, supported by the writing skills of Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, this coming-of-age-while-coming-out film has all the elements of an instant classic, and is indeed a touching, heartwarming and refreshing view at the awkwardness of navigating high school – and will pull at even the most cynical viewers’ heartstrings. Rarely does a film so effortlessly combine knee-slapping humor and poignant, tear-jerking authenticity. This film recycles some of the oldest tropes in the book in a fresh way and sets the bar incredibly high for the modern high-school film. Sure, it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of a grittier, more realistic film such as Moonlight or Call Me by Your Name, but in offering the light-hearted, feel-good-about-life teen alternative, director Berlanti has come up with a winner.
The story follows Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a High school senior, who seems to be living the perfectly normal life. He has loving parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a very likable little sister, Nora (Talitha Bateman), who dreams of becoming the next Celebrity TV Chef. He has plenty of friends including Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) that share classes and hang out. He is also happy as a musical theater student, even if he’s playing bit parts. While everyone sees Simon as a likable classmate, what they don’t know is that he’s gay, and he wants to keep it that way, all until he decides that he’s ready to tell them.
Everything changes for him when while scrolling through a local Whisper-like webpage, someone within his school reveals that their also secretly gay. Simon finds his email and starts to vent out his personal frustrations and even tells the recipient Blue that he’s been struggling to come out of the closet. Both agree to email each other as Blue and Simon as Jacques. However, when Martin (Logan Miller), a socially awkward classmate finds his emails and promises not to reveal them in exchange for Simon helping him to hook up with Abby, which leads Simon to manipulate his closest friends, while hoping that Martin doesn’t expose his secret and trying to figure out who Blue is. Life just complicated for Simon. T
his is a teen coming-out story that is overly positive, even for liberal countries. Geared towards a general audience rather than just a gay market, the soundtrack and the ambient color-grading add to the nostalgic feel of the film, whilst the cast and representation of today’s society offered a refreshing view on the coming-of-age format. Being a truly magnificent collection of joyful moments of teen years, the film focuses more on captivating the feeling of love rather than stereotypical ideas of different sexual orientations. Whether straight or gay, you fall in love with the film’s power. It surpasses expectations beyond all that I could want from a groundbreaking and truthful motion picture. Although the narrative veers contrived at times, we experience Simon’s life: both the suffering and joy. The film’s strength lies in its determination to normalize Simon’s predicament.
While his moments with his parents are amazing, his burgeoning sexuality is treated with just as much anxiety, heartache and humor as other teen crises in any other teen film. Unlike characters in films like Brokeback Mountain or Moonlight, he is no tortured or troubled, instead, he is happy and relatively well-adjusted, but is unsure about when or how to take the next step in being who he is. While most high school films usually portray them as “loud and proud” or “aggressive with a secret”. Instead, our gay character seems to be more popular than the average student. As a result the film has plenty of ethical dilemmas to tease your conscience with, like social identity, coming out of the closet, being yourself, friend and family love, the trials of trust, social media dependence, bullying, and so much more. The writers/directors accomplished the goal of bringing these terrifying scenarios out into full light, properly designing the scenes and sequences to have as many aspects possible to describe the dilemmas. This film’s main point seems to be, as many people learn in their personal or professional (or political) lives, hiding the truth is usually more harmful than telling the truth.
An even bigger achievement, is how connectable some of these moments can feel primarily in seeing a parent reaching out to help or to a peer putting an end to bullying by bluntly expressing that internal thought we always wanted to say. All these value-studying scenarios deserve an applause and are the established heart of the film, outside of the romance tale contained within. It’s a lesson which rings true, as shown in the experiences of characters which feel genuine, in a film that is entertaining and heartfelt. After all, regardless of sexual identity, as the film suggests, everyone deserves a great love story.
Director Berlanti is sympathetic to his lead character’s dilemma, but he doesn’t labor the point, for example, the school’s only openly gay student (Clark Moore) has an acerbic comeback for every adolescent put-down he’s subjected to and the drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell), who is given the best lines in the film and who knows exactly what to do with them, wipes the floor with the homophobic school bullies. The film also offers a refreshing yet honest view of coming out and may possibly inspire others to do so. It also delves into the distress experienced when deciding when and how to come out, and the anxiety that occurs when it happens against one’s own will.
Apart from that the film also has a lot of fun elements to make things interesting and intriguing to watch. First of all, the pace of the film is steady, moving quick enough to not grow dull, but not so rapid as to forego diving into the character development. Second the drama is relatable, which allows one to latch on to an issue and see how the issue will resolve. The third element is despite the melodramatic moments, the film has plenty of comedic relief to keep you chuckling, from well-time lines that have that perfect humorous punch, to the slapstick clumsy antics of the nerds. By breaking up the drama, one doesn’t feel as bogged down by the over hyped, teenage crises unfolding on the screen, and of course, the passion and feelings in this film are by far the most engaging elements of this film. The film manages to keep everything in check, being dramatic when needed, but grounded to recharge. And as an honorable mention, the mystery of who Blue is also brings some added fun to the mix, no matter how predictable it may be.
There’s a fun scene in which Simon imagines a parallel world where heterosexual teenagers must come out to their parents — some of the reactions are priceless. And Simon’s anonymous email relationship is a terrific narrative device in terms of sustaining the tension. It allows for a string of flirty near misses — at a party, at a diner and in the school drama hall. Sure, there are familiar visuals (an isolated Simon wondering where to sit in the canteen, hordes of kids piling into school corridors as the bell rings), and Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale plays the obligatory wise-cracking teacher. But Gerlanti’s film subtly pushes the envelope by placing an LGBT character front and center and surrounding him with the sort of diverse supporting cast that will eventually become the norm. The film is never risqué or massively stylistically adventurous, but it manages to sneak in a clever joke about Grindr and a playful fantasy dance sequence set to a Whitney Houston banger. Also, scenes in which Simon speaks candidly about his sexuality with his parents are sensitive, realistic and very affecting.
Yes, there’s a part of me that wants to be critical of this film, as it’s cheesy, unrealistic and formulaic. The two screenwriters often create drama that feels a bit phony at times. Plus, I wasn’t much of a fan of the bizarre Ferris wheel finale. However, these weaknesses are easily forgiven as when the film works, it works! And has a wonderful cast leading the film. The chemistry of all the cast is impressive and helps make you feel part of a convoluted high school family. Led by Nick Robinson, who is the star of the film. For such kind of the character to work, the lead required a lot of poise and focus to adequately transition between the various hats Simon had to wear, and Robinson executes these components flawlessly. He delivers a naturally restrained performance, illuminated periodically by a killer smile, and is supported by an unusually strong ensemble cast which consists of Katharine Langford, Keiynan Lonsdale Alexandra Shipp Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Miles Heizer, Clark Moore and Joey Pollari. Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell are hilarious. It’s too bad that Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, don’t have much screen time, they are awesome. On the whole, ‘Love, Simon‘ is a refreshing, charming, enchanting high school rom com, which succeeds majorly due to its absolutely hearty script and sympathetic performances.
Directed – Greg Berlanti
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 110 minutes