Monday, July 30, 2018

Movie Review: Love, Simon

Love, Simon *** / *****
Directed by: Greg Berlanti.
Written by: Elizabeth Berger & Isaac Aptaker based on the novel by Becky Albertalli.
Starring: Nick Robinson (Simon), Jennifer Garner (Emily), Josh Duhamel (Jack), Katherine Langford (Leah), Alexandra Shipp (Abby), Logan Miller (Martin), Keiynan Lonsdale (Bram), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Nick), Talitha Eliana Bateman (Nora), Tony Hale (Mr. Worth), Natasha Rothwell (Ms. Albright), Miles Heizer (Cal), Joey Pollari (Lyle), Clark Moore (Ethan), Drew Starkey (Garrett), Mackenzie Lintz (Taylor), Cassady McClincy (Jackie).
It’s hard to hate a film like Love, Simon – which is so big hearted and warm, full of characters who you can immediately like and recognize to the point that even the “bad guys” in the films aren’t really that bad – just hurt and lashing out in ways they don’t entirely think through until it’s too late. But it’s also hard to love a film like Love, Simon, because the film is so bland in many ways, and lacking in any real conflict – even the ones it does have seem more manufactured than real. It is an important film in one way – it finally gives gay kids the kind of romantic comedy that we straight kids have had for decades. Yes, it lacks any real sense of sexuality – but that’s kind of true of these types of comedies in general. Yes, it’s overly white – but, again, that’s kind of par for the course. The danger would be if Love, Simon was seen as an endpoint for this type of mainstream film, rather than a starting point. Hollywood has finally made this film – now it’s time to make something better.
In the film, Nick Robinson stars as Simon – a high school senior, who knows that he is gay, but isn’t out to anyone. He doesn’t really worry that he will be rejected – his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) are open and supportive, his little sister is as well. He has every reason to think that his three best friends – Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp) would accept him immediately. He wouldn’t even be the first openly gay kid in his school – there is another one, more “stereotypically” gay who is out, and other than a couple of assholes, everyone accepts them. But Simon doesn’t want things to change – not yet – so for now, he’s staying in the closet.
Things start to change when there is an anonymous post of what appears to be the school’s gossip website, where anyone can post their secrets without revealing their name. This is another student – calling himself Blue – who admits he is gay – and leaves an email address. Simon starts emailing Blue – who responds back. The two start to bond – and then something more develops. Neither knows how the other person is – but they’re still falling in love.
Of course, the movie has to have some conflict – some obstacles to overcome, and Love, Simon has some. Another student, Martin (Logan Miller) finds out that Simon is gay when he finds his emails on a school computer – and uses this knowledge to blackmail Simon into helping him woo Abby, who he has a crush on. Simon knows that Abby and Nick like each other, so he invents some stories to keep them apart. Simon is also more than a little clueless about Leah’s true feelings, which will result in heartbreak. Of course, all this explodes over Christmas break into a giant mess.
Love, Simon is a sweet film more than anything. It’s kind of adorable how it uses the same basic plot outline of any number of teenage movies, but does so in the service of a story about a gay kid struggling with when to come out. The movie is very purposefully not trying to reinvent the wheel here – but make pretty much the exact same film that we’ve seen hundreds of times, but with a different protagonist at its center.
The cast knows this, and goes along for the ride. Robinson has an open and natural screen presence, and kind of just goes along for the ride. As his parents, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are playing fantasy versions of parents – the type that any gay kid would love – because he doesn’t have to worry about all the horrible things that happen in real life – where kids are still thrown out of their house for being gay. Most of the other high schoolers are more than a little forgettable – even Katherine Langford, who was very memorable in season 1 of 13 Reasons Why (I didn’t watch season 2) doesn’t have much of a role to play here. The exception is Shipp as Abby – who is a charmer, and even if it’s lazy writing that pretty much every boy in the film is in love with her, you can of believe it here.
In general, the film is sweet, warm and funny – and also kind of bland and forgettable. It does precisely the job it sets out to do. Now it’s time for someone to set the bar higher for this type of film. Love, Simon shows that it can work (which should have been obvious). Now, we just need someone more daring to do it better.

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