Love, Simon is a surprisingly, radically-inclusive coming-of-age tale that wins you over with its universal truths.
Love, Simon kicks off with its titular character declaring in a voice-over that he’s just a typical teenager (“I’m just like you”) then the film cuts to a montage that highlights his upper-middle class credentials: his beaming family and their beautiful model house, his first SUV, his cool, ethnically-diverse friends sipping on their iced-coffees, etc. Well, Simon’s straight-out-of-catalog existence makes him anything but your ‘typical teenager’. It got me worried for a minute. Is this going to be the type of teen movie that is written by people who don’t understand teenagers at all? Director Greg Berlanti proves this otherwise so I swept this slight misstep under the rug. Simon’s seemingly perfect life is a facade and once you get past it, the film delivers a heartfelt story of self-liberation.
And so, the film reveals a common denominator. Like most of us, Simon’s been harboring a “huge ass secret.” In his case, he’s gay and no one knows anything about it. We are given enough reasons to believe that Simon outing himself in public will not be the end of his world. He’s in a much safer environment after all: he has a liberal-minded family that will not shun him plus, a supportive group of friends that will stand by him. His biggest fear is actually how these people around him will fundamentally change their perspective towards him. The film presents an interesting dichotomy of declaring your difference to the world yet still wanting things to be the same as ever. What will people expect of him moving forward? Is he supposed to let his ‘gay flag’ fly once he’s in college? Simon visualizes his future in an exuberant and hilarious Whitney Houston dance/dream sequence. He is, after all, a confused teenager who don’t know what he asks for.
While most queer films often equate coming out as a death sentence, Love, Simon feels progressive. Simon does not see his sexuality as an abnormality or an aberration, it’s just a part of him that he’s learning to embrace. Most of the conflict here is actually an internal struggle and sure, you could wish for more cinematic tension. But once the film lays out his moments of introspection, it turns up more affecting than what we expect it to be. There is a sustained level of inclusivity throughout Simon’s emotional journey that it will not take a gay person to understand what he’s going through. The emotions transcended are universal and we all know them too well: the agony of keeping a dark secret to yourself, the itching anxiety of waiting for someone’s reply, the humiliation from doing grand romantic gestures, the blindsiding confusion from misreading your friend’s mixed signals, etc. The film falls squarely in the coming-of-age category but it isn’t interested in rehashing the tired tropes of social food chain, overrated prom nights, graduation farewells, and so on. It all suddenly feels refreshing.
But even if you’re not emotionally invested at all here, the film still finds a way to captivate its viewers’ attention. The film’s mystery is the identity of “Blue”, an equally-reluctant closeted gay student to which Simon sparks up a digital romance with. The two confide each other’s deepest secrets including their embarrassing sexual awakenings (involving Harry Potter and Jon Snow, don’t ask) and as the story places us in Simon’s shoes, we begin to speculate who could his penpal be? Is it the popular jock? His pianist co-thespian? His classmate who works in the local diner? This guessing game allows our protagonist’s longings drift from one prospect to another, playing out in hypothetical scenarios.
Going back on the subject of portraying teenagers in films, director Greg Berlanti genuinely cares about the teen experience, especially their approach towards young love. The characters come out with a right mix of intelligence, complexity and naivety (as it should be). The film also benefits from a clever and sympathetic script by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (two of the writers behind the heartwarming series This is Us). Simon (Nick Robinson) and his group of friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) deliver strong performances, managing to be both authentic and likeable. Leah says at one point, “Sometimes I think I’m destined to care so much about one person, it nearly kills me,” this is how sensitive smart teenagers talk. We even get to understand the psyche of Simon’s annoying classmate Martin (Logan Miller), how he’s misguided as opposed to being completely malevolent. It all boils down to seeking love and validation from the people around them. Because that’s what teenagers really care about.
But if I were to pick a line that’s representative of the whole film it will be from a poignant scene where Simon’s mom (Jennifer Garner) says to him, “This last few years, it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath. You can exhale now.” This is exactly how the film feels like – a long overdue exhale. This is a story of a young man who comes into his own terms and finally takes charge of his story. Admittedly, the third act feels saccharine that you can almost shoehorn a Taylor Swift chorus in the end but as the whole theater cheered for Simon, I couldn’t help but feel uplifted as well.
Love, Simon is not groundbreaking by any means and still could’ve used a more realistic touch present in indie films. Still, the movie ends up as a competent descendant to seminal teen classics like The Breakfast Club. It does not present the audience with an overt agenda or a didactic lecture on LGBTQ rights, it simply says that everyone, no matter who they love, deserves a great love story.
Love, Simon wins you over with its universal truths, and for that, this ends up as one of the most important films of the year.
4 out of 5 stars
Distributed by 20th Century Fox, ‘Love, Simon‘ will have its paid advance screenings on April 30 and May 1, 2018 in select PH cinemas. Opens nationwide on May 9, 2018.
Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller and Jennifer Garner. Directed by Greg Berlanti from a screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. Based on the novel ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli.
Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes