Love, Simon (2018) Review
EVERYONE DESERVES A GREAT
As humanity continues evolve from one generation to the next, the idea of a person (male or female) being gay and attracted to an another of the same sex has always been sensitive subject to broach. While there’s no clearly defining reasoning behind it (i.e. some suggesting they were born thinking that way, while other due to a lifestyle choice that triggered it), the moniker status of being gay / lesbian has been around for quite some time, mostly (in more modern times) more developed awareness by an individual during their adolescent teenager years of self-discovery of “who am I?” identity. While it may have been a sort of “taboo” idea, being gay (in today’s society) has entered a more main stream / pop culture realm, with the idea being more generally accepted (in the public’s eye) than in years before, compromising more of a large community behind the personal identity (i.e. The LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender). That being said, there are still individuals who look down upon the idea (due to personal differences, religious belief, etc.), which can lead to a person being ridicule and / or involving a hate crime for being gay. It’s a double edge sword to officially “come out”, fearing the worst of a person’s surroundings and the general acceptance to those close to the individual (family, friends, peers, colleagues), but, at the same time feel a sense of liberation and to finally express oneself for the first time without any false façade behind it. Of late, recent mediums on both the small (syndicated television shows) and feature films have tackled the idea of being gay through their medium of storytelling of various characters and situations, allowing to express the idea underneath a cinematic lens. This includes (but not limited too) this topic in moves and tv shows like Glee, Dallas Buyers Club, Birdcage, Brokeback Mountain, Carol, Notes on a Scandal, and most recently with the film Call Me by Your Name. Now, 20th Century Fox (Fox 2000 Pictures) and director Greg Berlanti present the latest film in presenting a person conflicted with his sexual identity with the film Love, Simon. Does this movie find its courage within its meaningful narrative or does something get lost within it’s the film’s journey of self-discovery?
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is your typical normal teenager. His parents are the stereotypical (almost cliché) love story with his father Jack (Josh Duhamel) being star high school quarterback falling in love with his mother, Emily (Jennifer Garner), who was class valedictorian. Together, the nuclear innerworkings of the Spier family flows smoothly, with Spencer’s parents, his young sister Nora (Talitha Bateman), and their dog named Bieber. Outside of his home life, Simon also has pretty tight-knit (and normal) friends, with childhood best friends Nick Eisner (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) and Leah Burke (Katherine Langford) as well as the new addition to their group, Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp). However, while he seems to be having the classic run-of-the-mill life as a teenager, Simon has one “big” secret…. he’s gay and hasn’t told anyone. And it would’ve remained so, but that all changes when he connects with an online pen pal, a boy named “Blue”, who goes to the same high school and is also a closeted gay teen. Unfortunately, in an unlikely turn of events, Simon’s private emails to Blue are seen and screenshotted by fellow classmate Martin Addison (Logan Miller), who blackmails Simon into help him try to make Abby like him. In an effort to protect his relationship with Blue and his own secretive identity on his sexuality, Simon goes along with Martin’s plan, but put his relationship with all of his friends in jeopardy in doing so. All the while, Simon and Blue become closer, with Simon trying to figure out who Blue could possibly be, examining several individuals teens, including Nick’s soccer teammate Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), the waiter at their local Waffle House Lyle (Joey Pollari), drama club pianist Cal (Miles Heizer), or someone else completely. As everything builds to head in his adolescent life, the big question remains: will Simon open up (publicly) on who he really is to find the boy of his dreams?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As that opening paragraph states, the term “coming out” for a gay person is something that can speak to many different people from the individual who is coming out and those around them. Personally, it’s not my lifestyle choice preference, but (to me) I see nothing wrong with it as I known several people who are gay or lesbians and are completely normal to me and their sexual orientation doesn’t bother me in the slightest. My parents raised me and my brother to be openminded. However, like I said above, while today’s society is more opening to the idea of a person being gay (both in acceptance in pop culture and in real life), there are still those who are prejudice against the idea of a same sex, speaking hateful slurs (or worse) at individuals who define themselves underneath the moniker label of being gay. I know this is very sensitive subject to talk about, so I’m just going to live it at that.
Of course, this topic subject comes back around to talking about the film Love, Simon, which tackles this self-identity within a young teenager. Working at a bookstore, I do remember seeing the book of which this movie is based on (i.e. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) by author Becky Albertalli in the teen fiction section. I remember one day passing by it and seeing a sticker on it stating “soon to be a major motion picture”. Then, within a matter of weeks, the movie’s theatrical trailer appeared on online. I initial didn’t watch it (nor did I post it on my blog) because it didn’t really interest me. However, after seeing the film’s trailer several times when I went out to my local theater, I was somewhat interested in seeing the movie. Plus, I have to admit that song played in the movie’s trailer (i.e. “Wild Heart” by the Bleachers) was pretty catchy, which made think of the movie every time I heard it on the radio or see the Love, Simon trailer. Thus, I decided to check this out back towards the end of March (the same day I went to see Ready Player One), but getting this movie review done took some time as it sort of fell through the cracks and I kept pushing completing this review to the backburner. Now, I finally have the time to get it done. So, what did I think of Love, Simon? Well, it was actually pretty good. Despite a few problem in its overall structure (and few other things), Love, Simon is well-crafted, meaningful, and sincere coming-of-age story for the new millennial generation. While it may not be the true definitive teen movie out there, this movie is destined to become a surefire classic of recent endeavors of the genre.
Love, Simon is directed by Greg Berlanti, whose previous directorial works includes films like Life as We Know It and The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy as well as acting as executive producer for several TV series including the Arrowverse (i.e. Arrow, Flash, Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow), Blindspot, and Dawson’s Creek. In truth, Berlanti, who is an out gay man in real life, seems like a perfect fit to bring Albertalli’s Love, Simon story to the silver screen. Not just because of his sexual orientation, but because he’s probably gone through the same struggle and triumphs that character Simon Spier must go through, but in real life. Thus, throughout the film, Berlanti seems to infuse his own style and probably some “real life moments” that were either heartfelt and sincere during his plight on his self-identity. Of course, Berlanti seems very sincere in crafting the film, which is reflected in the movie’s final product, creating a sense of warmth and meaning into the story. Personally, I would compare it to a sort of rom-com for teens. The film’s script, which was based on Albertalli’s novel and penned by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, takes the classic teen love story drama (of which we all know and probably lived through during those years in high school) and projects onto the closeted gay male teenagers. To be honest, Love, Simon (the movie) seems to be the somewhat first of its kind (i.e. being the first film by major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teenage romance), which is a big step indeed. While the character of a gay teenager has been played before (be it a more comical / stereotypical portrayal in other media outlets), but is more regulated to being a side / supporting character in the grand scheme of things. Love, Simon brings that idea forward and places it front and center, which, given the changing of times, is a good thing. Plus, most recent teen dramas movie out there (i.e. The Space Between Us, Everything, Everything, Midnight Sun, etc.) all seem to blend together; taking bits and piece and cues from one another and sort just feels like the same thing over and over again. Love, Simon takes that idea (teen romance / comedy-based film) and makes its own thing, resulting in being a sums parts of a teen film endeavor (comedy teen drama and angst), but stands out more than rest of the genre (at least to me). Lastly, just in case people are worried about this, the sexual content level in Love, Simon is mild (like something you would see on TV). This is (again) going with the notion that Love, Simon is an approachable piece is geared more towards mainstream medium, despite the story surrounding about a closeted gay teenager. Still, this didn’t bother me as love (no matter about orientation a person belongs to), is universal and a part of humanity and I think Love, Simon is a reminder of that.
Another attribute in saying that Love, Simon is a well-crafted movie is in the more technical presentation. Much the handling of the movie’s narrative, the overall look and feel of the Love, Simon is a gentle and sincere one. Although, while the film might not nab and awards or nominations at the next award season for their achievement of assembling the feature, the time and attention to make the film pleasant and appealing “to the eyes” is indeed a noteworthy one. Thus, many of the film’s head talents, including John Guleserian (cinematography), Eric Dorman (costume designs), Harry Jierjian (film editing), and Rob Simonsen (musical composer) help elevate the movie by bringing Albertalli’s literary world to life. Plus, I have to admit that I felt happy that Love, Simon does feature the song “Wild Heart” by the Bleachers (yes, the same one that mentioned that was featured in the film’s trailer) is featured in the movie. Definitely loved it and yes…. I downloaded it on iTunes after seeing the movie.
The problems I had with Love, Simon aren’t that much to cripple the movie in its execution and overall likeability, but they were noticeable to making the film out of reach from reaching its true cinematic potential. Perhaps the one that comes to my mind (the most) is the fact that world that Love, Simon creates seems a bit too perfect…. almost like cinematic teen world. What do I mean? Well, the story takes place in large suburbia area with large family size homes, Simon’s family seems like a well-to-do family (as all are lot of the other kids in the movie), Simon’s finds a lot of support amongst his friends, and few other things but that would ruin the movie if I mentioned them. Yes, I get it that the movie is set within a “movie world” in which stuff is made a bit more fantastical (in order to drive that extra cinematic spice to the story), but this clearly not the average everyday depiction of growing up as a teenager. I mean, the only bullies in the school are two fellow classmates and the movie doesn’t really show the varying ideas of what it means to be gay (i.e. what does Simon’s fellow classmates think of a teen coming out as gay?) Thus, the setting in Love, Simon sort of lacks the bit of reality touch at certain times. I mean, I kind of wanted a bit more real-life drama to have been interjected, which could’ve made the movie a bit darker (just slightly), but also felt a bit more believable and could’ve had a stronger impact on the overall resonating themes of “coming out” as a gay individual (be it happy or sad).
Coinciding with that criticism, the movie has several characters that seem a bit “dated” or (again) too movie-ish, pandering to the movie audience to get a few laughs at. This includes a vice principal (Mr. Worth) who tries to relate too much with the students, a drama teacher (Ms. Albright) who is way too outspoken and mouthy to be working at a public high school (she definitely would be reprimanded in real-life for her outspoken thoughts to students), and an openly gay classmate / student (Ethan) who is the only other gay student in the story (beyond Simon and Blue) that is too on the “nose” as the stereotypical flamboyant gay individual. These characters, though well-acted by the actors / actresses who playing them and do play a certainly small parts in the story, they just seem a bit like caricatures characters than real-life ones, which (again) is where Love, Simon sometimes feel “too much” like fantasy teen reality rather than cinematically portraying a real one. As a storyline structure, Love, Simon does fall prey into the familiar territory of a teen movie. Thus, while Albertalli’s story is certainly palpable (tackling the love story of gay teen), Berger and Aptaker’s narrative structure for the film falls into the standard rut of several teen genre movies of late, connecting several formulaic ideas and scenarios that are conventional for the subgenre. It doesn’t derail the movie, but it is noticeable and its sort of easy to predict where the film’s narrative, despite trying to pull a few twists along the way, is heading towards its conclusion.
The cast in Love, Simon is pretty good, with most of the young cast giving strong performances in their respective roles. At the head of the pack is actor Nick Robinson, who plays the film’s central protagonist role of Simon Spiers. Robinson, known for his roles in Jurassic World, Everything, Everything, and The 5th Wave, differently excels in this role, lending his acting talents beautifully to this multifaceted character. Given the fact that Love, Simon is in fact about the character of Simon Spier and his whole journey (struggles and triumphs alike), the whole movie literally hinges on Robinson’s performance, which he pulls off excellently. He’s charming one point, painfully vulnerable at another, and has that sense of that classic “awkward teen that all of us were once during our younger years. It also must be stated on Robinson’s performance on handling himself (as Simon) as a closeted gay teenager, being a main focal point of the feature; a character that many viewers out there will probably identity with and haven’t seeing before in a cinematic feature (again, being the more of the main protagonist than just a supporting / side character). That being said, the usage of a high school setting and a teen rom-com aspect and nuances help Simon’s “big ass secret” be more of a universal backdrop as well as being an approachable piece to the film’s viewers. Additionally, it also helps that almost every scene that Robinson shares with his co-stars, he immediately gels with them. Thus, his performance of Simon is probably the most palpable of the entire feature (and it’s great).
In supporting roles in the movie are Simon’s trio of friends. These characters, while playing supporting / sometimes stock-like roles for a teen drama (bits and pieces are cliché at times), do get a fair amount of screen-time, finding each one to have a small purpose (sub-plot) role in Love, Simon’s narrative, which is mostly due to Berlanti’s source material of the characters. Still, those who make up this trio, including actress Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why and The Misguided) as Leah, actress Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse and House of Anubis) as Abby, and actor Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Brigsby Bear and The Land) as Nick, give wholesome performance in the roles; acting as the cohesive / close knit friends to Simon. It also helps that each one has a good on-screen chemistry with each other, which does help give a sense of believability in making us (the viewers) believe that this quartet of teenagers are real-life friends and not just actors. Additionally, actor Logan Miller (Before I Fall and Ultimate Spider-Man) fills in nice as Martin, Simon’s awkward classmates at school who blackmails him. Miller’s performance is good, offering a goody / annoying portrayal of Martin, which is what the character needs to be.
Behind them, actress Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel (who are the “big-ticketed” stars of the feature) play Simon’s parents Jack and Emily Spier. Both Garner, known for her roles in Alias, Daredevil, and 13 Going on 30, and Duhamel, known for his roles in When in Rome, Transformers, and Safe Haven, are truly are great in their respective parental roles in the movie, with Duhamel being the stereotypical loving / goofy dad and Garner being the kind and gentle motherly figure. In fact, their performances in their reactions to their son’s coming out (not really a spoiler, but it was forgone conclusion to happen in the movie) are truly great and grounded in reality; a feeling of mixed emotions and sincerity. That scene is truly great. By proximity to Garner and Duhamel, young actress Talitha Bateman (Annabelle: Creation and Geostorm) as Jack and Emily’s younger child Nora (i.e. Simon’s younger sister). While Bateman displays a fine acting performance in her role, that not much to her character beyond the basic “sister” aspect.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is actor Tony Hale (Veep and Arrested Development) as Creekwood High’s Vice Principal Hale, actress Natasha Rothwell (Insecure and UCB Comedy Originals) as the sassy drama teacher Ms. Albright, and actor Clarke Moore (The Sign-off and Glee) as the only openly gay student at Creekwood High named Ethan, actor Joey Pollari (American Crime and Avalon High) as Lyle (a possible local identity for Simon’s Blue), and actors Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash and The Finest Hours) and Miles Heizer (Nerve and 13 Reasons Why) as Simon’s fellow classmates at Creekwood High (i.e. Bram and Cal) that he examines to see if they are secretly Blue. While Hale, Rothwell, Moore are the characters that I mentioned above (good acting in their respective parts, but horrible caricatures characters), the rest of these characters are good in their smaller roles that fill out the Love, Simon’s story of roster characters.
Everyone deserves a great love story and Simon Spiers is done hiding his “true self” from the world in the movie Love, Simon. Director Greg Berlanti newest film takes the classic coming-of-age tale and semi-syrupy romantic story thread of a teen drama and makes his own for a heartfelt story of self-identity and first love. While the film does fall prey to conventional plot / story structures and formulas of the teen film, the movie is still a well-crafted feature that takes the “coming out” story of a young gay teen and makes it center stage with the teen genre, producing a tender and sincere narrative that plays to its source material as well as Berlanti’s direction and the strong performances from the cast, especially from Robinson. Personally, I liked this movie. It was slightly different from the “norm” of the teen-flavored drama movies that Hollywood has recently churned, but still offers a very good story that’s both very endearing and gentle; delivering a tale of self-worthy, love, and the choice to coming out as a gay individual. Thus, I would say that this movie gets my “recommended” stamp of approval, especially to those who are part of its demographic target (i.e. pre-teens, teens, and young adults), with the potential idea of opening up more possibilities of similar films (centered around same sex teenage youths. All in all, Love, Simon represents being a modern teen classic for a new generation and will likely find a special place to who see themselves in Simon Spier’s position; able to connect (and identify) with the character’s desire and struggle and see themselves starring in this Hollywood mainstream teen rom-com.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: March 16th, 2018
Reviewed On: June 16th, 2018
Love, Simon is 109 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language, and teen partying