Maybe the reason I’m not as much in love with Love, Simon as everyone else is because I’ve seen this type of teen coming-out-of-the-closet story done so often on TV. There’s really nothing about this movie that couldn’t have been done in 2005. Then again, for no particularly good reason, it took this long for there to be a major studio movie about a gay teenager. In that light, it’s good that Love, Simon is as accomplished and likable as it is.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the movie stars Nick Robinson (from Jurassic World) as the titular Simon Spier, a 17-year-old in the Atlanta area who has already figured out that he’s gay but is struggling with how to tell the world. When another boy at his school who only identifies himself as “Bluegreen” posts to a school blog about his own sexuality, Simon winds up confiding in this mysterious person via email, adopting the pseudonym of “Jacques.”
This is the work of Greg Berlanti, who has done much work on TV shows such as Everwood and the short-lived but missed Eli Stone. His film career has been eminently forgettable up to this point; his gay-themed debut The Broken Hearts Club looked dated even back in 2000. He gives this material much defter handling, aided by a snappy script by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who have both written episodes of This Is Us. The filmmakers have a sure grip on Simon’s circle of high-school friends, and the pop culture references are on point, as Simon tries to identify Blue from his school’s Game of Thrones fans, a gambit that fails. Josh Duhamel contributes a neat turn as Simon’s tragically-unhip-but-cool-in-other-ways dad, and good jokes waft up out of the high-school principal who’s desperately trying to be cool (Tony Hale) and the depressing school drama scene that Simon is part of, presided over by a teacher (Natasha Rothwell) who says, “I don’t need this! I was an extra on The Lion King!”
Adding to the high-school suckitude is Martin (Logan Miller), the monstrously untalented star of the school’s production of Cabaret who discovers Simon’s secret and blackmails him into fixing him up with a girl who’s one of Simon’s friends (Alexandra Shipp, particularly bright). Simon’s forced to scramble madly and play matchmaker with all the wrong couples, and the tangle of plots doesn’t lead to the agreeable hysteria of farce nor to the sweaty desperation of a drama with more gravitas. When Simon’s secret does come out, it mostly leads to a bunch of soft, heartfelt speeches that slow the movie down unnecessarily. It also leads to an isolated homophobic incident at school that should have been more interesting. (Then again, this is a PG-13-rated film.)
Still, this movie needed to exist, and the fact that it should have existed 10 years ago takes nothing away from Love, Simon getting there first. Sometimes, the guy needs the fairy-tale ending where he walks off with another guy. Maybe this will look less distinguished when some film historian writes up a history of gay cinema 20 years from now, but it is more than good enough to inspire better gay movies for teens.
Starring Nick Robinson. Directed by Greg Berlanti. Written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on Becky Albertalli’s novel. Rated PG-13.