Love, Simon *****
Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendebord Jr., Logan Miller
Director: Greg Berlanti
Teen movies are a rite of passage. From Grease to John Hughes’ entire cannon, whole generations have grown up seeing themselves depicted on screen, joined by the one thing that unites them; their shared experience of growing up. Except for LGBT people, there’s always been a bit of a problem. As teenage boys compete to get laid before college, or as teenage girls scrap to be Queen Bee, the representation of different sexualities and genders have been sidelined, at best, or even ridiculed, at worst. So as Love, Simon appears in multiplexes around the world, the very first mainstream teen comedy to feature and revolve around a gay protagonist, its significance cannot be underplayed.
Simon (Robinson) lives a normal life. Seventeen years old, his days revolve around trying not to stand out in high school with his friends (Langford, Shipp & Lendebord) and dealing with his over-liberal parents (Garner & Duhamel) at home. He’s gay but not yet out. On the high school’s gossip website, an anonymous user named ‘Blue’ posts about his sexuality and Simon bites the bullet and responds to his post, but as they exchange messages and Simon gets more and more infatuated, Blue is increasingly reluctant to reveal his identity. And when Martin (Miller), an opportunist acquaintance, stumbles across their correspondence on a shared computer, Simon is forced to start weaving a web of lies to convince his blackmailer not to expose him.
Based on the YA novel ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, the plot has been consolidated to revolve entirely around this central love story. Forget that the reason for online anonymity is usually to mask a vast difference in age, or disparity in attractiveness; this is a film of idealism. It’s the glossy liberal American dream, with perfect kitchens and manicured lawns and seriously over-attractive parents. Simon is the dorky everyman, except doe-eyed and painfully affable, while his mother is, of course, a clinical psychologist (incidentally, so is Albertalli, who wrote the novel after the birth of her son…). Of course, this high-sheen adolescence is not what 99% of us have experienced, but it’s the aspirational quality of Love, Simon that is the point. We’ve had countless rough and ready, street-smart, urban coming out stories from all over the world; the point of this movie is that they have finally seeped into a genre in which LGBT stories have previously been overlooked. And what makes it remarkable is that it is probably one of the best teen movies released this century.
This is a funny film. The plot and characters lend themselves to situational comedy – Martin, though infuriating, makes for David Brent-style seat-squirming as his desperation becomes more and more intense – while it becomes the duty of the supporting players to bleed the real one-liners from the sidelines and scene-steal in brief flashes of brilliance. The teachers, especially, dominate the screen, going beyond archetypes to typify the twenty-first century trend of teachers trying to prove just how “down with the kids” they are. And though the friends’ contribution to the film is solely to provide Simon with anxiety and caffeine (so much caffeine!), the parents get some of the laughs too.
Nick Robinson makes for a perfect lead. He is the Judd Nelson/Rob Lowe/Tom Cruise; the angsty teen that we all want to be or be with. You half expect him to appear holding up a boom-box to a window, but it’s actually Martin who attempts to be John Cusack from Say Anything with a gesture that falls as flat as a pancake. Surprisingly not much has been said about Robinson’s portrayal of a gay man, having declared himself heterosexual in recent interviews. But while it would be nice to see a gay story told by a gay actor, or even written by a gay writer, the movie’s gay director has created a timeless teen comedy that could not be more inclusive, diverse or air-punchingly, smile-inducing saccharine feel-good mulch with heart. And a giant beating heart at that.
What sets Love, Simon apart from its peers is that while all the composite parts of the teen comedy genre are present, there is something also present that is much bigger than your usual boy-meets-girl fayre. Though the only real threat of homophobia comes from a small group of machismo douchebags at school, it emphasises just how big a deal the sexual maturity of a LGBT person can be, even in the best of circumstances. In a confrontation with Martin later, Simon berates that coming out “should have been MY thing”, and while this millennial bleat sounds like a first-world suburban issue, it is an ‘issue’ nonetheless, something that teen movies steer well clear of, even in terms of race and gender. So while Love, Simon won’t win any prizes for its originality of plot or artistry, when the film is assembled and viewed within the context of the Hollywood landscape, this is a film of great quality and real significance.
OUT NOW IN CINEMAS.