Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.
1 Hr., 50 Mins.
Love, Simon August 6, 2018
In the film, the sleepy-eyed Nick Robinson portrays the eponymous 16-year-old hero. “I’m just like you,” he says via voiceover narration as the film opens. He has a small but tight-knit group of friends, with whom he often goes on midday coffee runs and late-night adventures; he lives in a Hallmarkian suburban home with his long-married parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and precocious little sister (Talitha Bateman), who wants to become a chef someday.
But Simon has a “huge-ass secret”: he’s gay. He privately came to terms with this fact sometime in middle school. He knew he was attracted to men around the time he realized that his love for Panic! At the Disco, a pop-rock group popular in the aughts, had more to do with a crush on the square-jawed frontman, Brendon Urie, than it did the music.
Yet he abhors the idea of coming out. Not because he’s ashamed of his sexuality, and not because he thinks his loved ones wouldn’t be supportive. Simon, simply, is anxious that life as he knows it will dramatically change. He also detests that he has to come out at all: heteronormativity has ensured no one has ever had to valiantly walk up to their parents, take a deep breath, and say, “Mom, Dad — I’m straight.” (This alternate reality is dramatized in an amusing montage.) Why should he have to declare anything to anyone?
Love, Simon is driven by a Gmail correspondence that will eventually lead to its hero’s coming out. On an online message board, Simon gets acquainted with a closeted classmate known only by his pseudonym, Blue. Using “Jacques” as his nom de plume, Simon begins messaging Blue on his email account, and the two begin an online relationship of sorts.
Though neither has any idea who the other might be — the film spends much time watching Simon try to figure out who his interweb lover is, as if he were a hip alternative to Encyclopedia Brown — Simon and Blue feel comfortable talking about their sexuality to one another. At one point, Blue is even inspired to come out to his father, who takes the news well.
Simon’s long-in-the-making path to self-acceptance, though, is sullied by a greaseball of a classmate, Martin (Logan Miller), who happenstantially discovers Simon and Blue’s relationship online when the former accidentally leaves his browser open in the library. After this unearthing, Martin, who has a crush on one of Simon’s best friends, the plucky Abby (Alexandra Shipp), decides to use the knowledge to benefit himself. Martin tells Simon that he will “out” him if he does not do everything in his power to link him and Abby up.
Yet despite this surprisingly dark development in the storyline, the movie remains soft and amiable; it is more about Simon’s story than it is the trite Martin-centric subplot, which comes to be a nuisance. By its end, Simon will have met Blue (which leads to a passionate kiss in the seat of a romantic, neon-lit ferris wheel) and come out to his family and friends.
Nick Robinson, a Seattle native best known for his work in Jurassic World, from 2015, is very good in the role. Although I have misgivings about a straight actor playing this historically significant a role, Robinson efficiently conveys the aches that come with living a plangent reality plagued by knowing exactly who you are but consistently censoring yourself. Robinson’s motley crew of friends are humorously, and humanistically, portrayed; I especially liked Garner’s performance, which is topped off by a touching monologue that recalls Michael Stuhlbarg’s shining moment in last year’s Call Me By Your Name, another movie at least partially centered around gay romance.
But I couldn’t help but watch Love, Simon with some skepticism, too. It is uncomfortably fixated on perpetuating the “I’m just like you” apothegm, and such makes it feel skewed in the direction of straight acceptance rather than in the direction of mainstream LGBTQ+ representation.
The aforementioned phrase is uttered a few too many times at the outset, for starters. But a number of pivotal scenes are scrubbed arguably for the sake of retaining mainstream appeal. There is a fantasy sequence during which Simon imagines his life in college, and it’s rainbow-colored, decked out in paradelike baubles, and soundtracked by Whitney Houston. “Well, maybe not that gay,” Simon says, via voiceover, as the daydream concludes. It feels as though it were meant to mitigate the disquietude of straight people who have an aversion to people who are "too gay." It also undermines a reality that very well could be desired by some.
Myriad key plot points featured in the novel are sanitized or left out altogether. In the film, the Gmail correspondence is less central, and far more restrained. But in the novel, it is all-encompassing. Simon and Blue go as far as discussing their fantasies, and ponder what it would feel to have sex with another man.
There is also a crucial sequence in which Abby, with the help of another one of Simon’s best friends, Nick (played in the movie by Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), take Simon to a gay bar, and the latter is startled by the profound sense of love and acceptance he feels there.
Yet these realities are omitted. Love, Simon takes additional inspiration from its director, Berlanti, who was closeted in high school too. But it feels as though he, along with the film's screenwriters, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, are hyper- conscious that the movie can be gay, but not too gay.
I was still stirred by the film; I cheered when the rom-com-familiar ending came about. And I liked, even if it is a bit heavy-handed, the way the movie makes a point to render intolerance ignorant and ugly. In one scene, a pair of homophobic jocks are abrasively told off by the theater teacher (Natasha Rothwell) in front of the student body during lunch hour. That's refreshing, especially considering how many movie characters have used gay slurs as insults in the past without any sort of reaction from the surrounding players.
While watching Love, Simon, I was reminded of a March column written by Doreen St. Félix of the New Yorker. While St. Félix suggests that the movie is effective, and in no doubt moving and important, it is nonetheless distractingly slanted toward straight acceptance. The climax, rousing as it is, is oddly focused on the reactions from the primarily heterosexual crowd who has gathered to see Simon and Blue meet. St. Félix posits that straight audiences and LGBTQ+ viewers might have been respectively able to handle and prefer “a bolder artwork, one that captured something of gay love rather than making a statement about the straight acceptance of it.”
Love, Simon is doubtlessly important, both historically and, for so many of its viewers, young and old, personally. It is a landmark, and it’s a sensitive, likable one. And it’s nice to have an LGBTQ+-centered movie that isn’t tragic in nature, as most are, but rather saccharine and optimistic. But Love, Simon might have been better if there weren’t a sense it was being subtly tweaked and edited to allay the inherent anxieties of the long-majority demographic for whom it wasn’t necessarily made. B
ove, Simon (2018), a teen movie directed by the variegated television impresario Greg Berlanti, is undoubtedly game-changing: It makes for the first time a major studio has released a John Hughes-style dramedy revolving around a gay character. It is an adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens, a best-selling young-adult novel from 2015, and spins a good-natured and easy-to-like story about self-acceptance and coming out. I enjoyed it. With some reservations.