Queer cinema has came through quite well back in 2017. We’ve had great examples like Call Me By Your Name, Battle of the Sexes and Moonlight; foreign entries like BPM (Beats Per Minute), Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and BAFTA-winning The Handmaiden and hidden indie gems like Princess Cyd, Beach Rats and God’s Own Country. All of these films have had critical acclaim and they are all arthouse darlings, but the majority were never meant for commercial appeal.
Enter 2018, where we have what is considered to be a genre milestone: the gay teen romantic comedy called Love, Simon. It is the first major studio film to focus on a gay teenage romance and by that alone, it has a lot to live up to. With a talented cast of young talent/veterans and director Greg Berlanti at the helm, (whose directorial debut, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, made him the perfect candidate), does Love, Simon live up to the hype?
Based on the acclaimed book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Nick Robinson stars as Simon Speer, an average teenager who has his three best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and they stroll through high school with all the trimmings like secrets, crushes, discrimination, boring classes, exams, the usual.
But Simon keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. And the only outlet he has is with a closeted gay student at their high school, known only by the pseudonym “Blue”. Simon then proceeds to reach out to him under his own alias, “Jacques”. They confide very personal details, and soon he and Blue form a genuine connection, to the point that Simon wants to discover the identity of Blue. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his own identity.
Does the film live up to the hype? For the most part, it does, thanks to the humour and the wonderful cast. It must be said, it’s very encouraging to see such progress from a major film studio to make a gay character the lead protagonist of a film such as this. Though Love, Simon is much more of a coming-out story than a proper romantic comedy (or drama), it does lend a different perspective of the story, leading to something more gradual rather than just climactic.
Like the film itself, let’s begin with the complications. The characters, apart from Simon and Abby, do not really have much depth beyond the personas that they inhabit, despite the efforts of the cast. And there are script contrivances that hinder the impact of the film. One particular example is when two bullies come into the picture. It just felt forced, as if the script just needed to give the film more tension that it already had.
Speaking of tension, the film is a bit too squeaky-clean, considering the conflicts and complications in the story. With the use of social media, the current views of homophobia and bullying, the film could have used a bit more punch. Although the film does quite well in conveying the stress Simon with his friends and loved ones, especially the moments when his father would make comments that indirectly offend him, like calling someone “fruity”.
The musical score by Rob Simonsen becomes quite syrupy and overused as the film goes on, particularly in the third act. And then there’s the character of Martin. The character is not really a flaw per se but he is a character (or a plot device) that can aggravate one to no end, hindering the enjoyment of the film quite a bit. The intent of that character might be clearer in retrospect or on repeat viewings, but one’s tolerance may vary.
And now we can get into the positives. While the script may be flawed, it does a good job with subverting some cliches of commercial romantic comedies as well as commercial teenage films. And it deserve particular praise for not conforming to commercial tropes of gay films like flamboyant attitudes, constant abuse or tragic ends. Getting back into the Martin character, he is essentially the archetype for a romantic comedy, which is essentially the supposed lovable loser. But what Love, Simon does is to make Martin think he is the hero of the story, despite the fact that this is the story of Simon, and the filmmakers rip the archetype to shreds, which is a welcome sight to see.
The cast, including upcoming young talent and veterans, all do a wonderful job with inhabiting their characters. Nick Robinson is nuanced and sympathy as Simon. His character is meant to be one who experiences a lot of emotions and yet is trying very hard not to be noticed in doing so. While Robinson could have played the character as self-conscious or unlikable due to the actions of the character that occur in the second act, he easily engenders sympathy and becomes a winning lead.
Australian actress Katherine Langford gives an underplayed performance and lends a lot of needed depth to the role of Leah, Simon’s best friend. Alexandra Shipp is enjoyably spirited as Abby, who may or may not use her innate charisma as a cover for her discrepancies; while Jorge Lendeborg Jr. does what he can with his character, with his likable presence. Logan Miller aggravates to no end as Martin, although he does lend the role a sense of humanity, without turning the role into a complete cartoon.
As for the adult performances, Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell are absolute hoots (Rothwell, more so) as the principal and school drama teacher, respectively. And we have Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. Garner has always been a great actress (2007’s Juno is proof of that) and she delivers a great monologue in the third act that gets into the heart of what Simon is going through, as well as the hearts of the audience. While Duhamel gives one of his best performances as Simon’s father, lending good humour and pathos to the character.
Overall, Love, Simon is a sweet and likable comedy/drama with lovable characters, a truthful if flawed script, a gay protagonist worth cheering for and a huge stepping stone of inclusivity for the LGBT community on film.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF (OUT OF FIVE STARS)
Love, Simon is in cinemas now.