Film Review: Love, Simon
By Will Bjarnar
There is a fine line between the cheesy romance and the deep, simultaneously beautiful and painful dissection of love and its inner workings. Toeing that line is a film where clichés are somehow overused and utilized effectively; not relied upon to drive its humor. While certain elements are completely predictable, those most imperative to the story are well hidden. It's a film like Love, Simon that toes that line, not perfectly, but successfully.
That story (based on the Becky Albertalli young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) chronicles what is quite the senior year of high school for Simon Spier (Nick Robinson). Right off-the-bat, we get a glimpse into what is, "for the most part," a normal life. We meet his all-American high-school sweetheart parents (Josh Duhamel & Jennifer Garner) and his three best friends, Leah (13 Reasons Why's Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp). They drink an inordinate amount of iced coffee (but who didn't in high school?) and listen to an appropriate amount of indie pop music (here's looking at you, Bleachers). It's what you would expect every teenager to be doing.
The most important detail from Simon's story is a secret the audience is let in on within the first few minutes of the film: he's gay. No one knows, not even his parents or his best friends, and definitely not his classmates. So when a post from an anonymous closeted student appears on a popular blog, detailing his struggles with coming out, Simon takes an interest, and elects to contact "Blue," the author's screen name. He had been experiencing similar problems. Their emails become part of the duo's daily routines, and all is well. At least until Creekwood High's obnoxious Martin (Logan Miller) hops on the same computer Simon had forgotten to log out of as he abruptly left the library as the bell rang. Simon's email was wide open. Martin desires the heart of Simon's pal, Abby, and figures he can use these emails to his advantage. Blackmail ensues and Simon's secret becomes endangered.
A master producer of teenage-driven entertainment such as Riverdale and Dawson's Creek, Greg Berlanti directs a film that is bound to find some serious box office success as word only begins to spread. Along with screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, they are able to perfectly depict the previously-documented struggle of a kid grappling with how to announce the truth about his sexuality. He's felt this way for some time, yet just hasn't found the right time to tell everyone else. There's problems one can run into when attempting to portray that struggle in an authentic light. Berlanti, Aptaker and Berger seem to do just that. While coupled with beats that feel almost 80’s cinemaesque, which in turn tend to make the film feel almost too cheesy in spots that intend to send a much deeper message, the message is nevertheless appropriately delivered. Not to mention, the film's soundtrack mirrors that of an 80’s “rom-com,” only the songs aren't anything from the likes of Simple Minds. It is more Khalid, with appearances from The 1975. It is absolutely killer.
The supporting cast is made up of more than capable role-filling teens led by Langford, who delivers a wonderful performance, something that has come to be expected of her. Along with Lendeborg Jr., Shipp, and Keiynan Lonsdale as Bram make up a group of friends anyone would want to hang out with. Their performances feel true to a high school student. On the other end, Duhamel and Garner are phenomenal in portraying the parents who help their son through an experience obviously weighing heavily on his shoulders. Garner delivers the best line of the film, telling her son that although he has been holding his breath for some time, he can finally exhale. Duhamel plays the typical dad. He shouldn't have been cracking jokes about the Bachelor who was clearly "fruity." He should have been more conscious. He wishes he had seen it before, and he believes he should have. There's no way he could have, and all he wants is for his son to be happy. As with any parent, their child's pain is felt as if it was their own pain. Duhamel and Garner deliver on that pain with authenticity.
This review cannot go by without dedicating a considerable amount of space to Nick Robinson. The budding star is coming off roles in Jurassic World, Everything, Everything and The Fifth Wave, and as the titular character here, he tops them all in leaps and bounds. He perfectly portrays the discomfort, anxiety, heartbreak and pain that one would expect a young man like Simon to be going through emotionally in such a situation. He deals with school bullies, fit with minds too small to comprehend the idea that their peer could be different from them, and breaks down when he unexpectedly becomes tangled in a self-woven web of lies, one he wishes he had never spun. There's a scene where things begin to unravel for Simon. The score consists of a growing, bass-driven ring, and Robinson's Simon crashes into his bed, writhing in emotional anguish. It's heart wrenching. It's also one of, if not his best, scenes in the film. It's Robinson's job to pave the way for the film's direction. He does so in a truly commendable way.
One of 2017s most notable successes in film came in the form of the memorable gay coming of age story, Call Me By Your Name. While the protagonist Elio was experiencing pain that came with a lost love which may typically be forbidden by most, his love nor his pain were condemned. They were empathized with, almost even celebrated and remarked as a stepping stone in life. It was done beautifully, and it has become an obvious stepping stone in terms of advances in film, just in a different way than Love, Simon will eventually grow to be. Roger Ebert's Sheila O'Malley aptly points out that films like Call Me By Your Name are much more complex, intricate even. They "show characters who are not punished for their sexuality by the world, their parents, their peers, and these films are huge steps forward. But 'Love, Simon' is a mainstream film for teenagers." The key point here is "mainstream." CMBYN is a more complete film, with far better performances, better directing, writing and production. It's unfair to compare the two. I only do so to accurately express the idea that the mainstream delivery that Berlanti elects to utilize to bring this story to life is what will make this yet another step in a positive direction. It's not as well done, nor is it as complete, but that's fine. It works the way it is.
One of my favorite lines in the entire film is from Langford's Leah, Simon's lifelong bestie. She asks him, "do you ever feel weird?" as she and Simon fall into a tipsy, deep conversation after a Halloween party including one too many bar visits for Simon. The two best friends sit in silence for some brief moments amidst diving into their deeper feelings on life, but their faces and their eyes speak louder than any lines may have. Both of these teens feel weird. Leah feels destined to "care so much about one person it nearly kills [her]," while Simon feels weird because he almost feels like he can't, or at least hasn't ever been entirely himself. He has never been entirely the person he wants people to see him as. Although in very different ways, the two lifelong friends feel the exact way plenty of teenagers feel on a daily basis. To speak in Simon's words, it's like they're "stuck on a Ferris wheel." It's moments like these that make this film such a success. As a whole, it has its missing beats, and its imperfections. But it's a film like this that really resonates with its intended audience. Not every teen can identify with a character like CMBYN's Elio Perlman. Plenty can, but in one way or another, I think every teen can identify with the teens from Love, Simon, specifically Simon himself. That's a credit to the cast and to Berlanti for realizing who his audience was, and for targeting them perfectly. To answer your question, Leah, of “do you ever feel weird?,” of course. We all do, just in a variety of ways. And thanks to Love, Simon, I think we have the chance to reassure ourselves that that's okay.