Film

Review: Love, Simon Captures the Turmoil of High School for a Gay Lead Character

Image courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Directed by Greg Berlanti (the landmark The Broken Hearts Club as well as an executive producer on all of those CW network DC superhero shows and “Riverdale”), Love, Simon is an unusual romance story for several reasons. It’s a love story in which we don’t know exactly who one half of the relationship even is since it begins anonymously online. But more significantly, the film marks the first time that a major studio has put out a film with a gay lead character—in this case a teenage boy named Simon Spier (Nick Robinson of Jurassic World)—who goes through many of the exact same things that his straight counterparts have been going through in films for decades, but with the added pressure of hiding the fact that he’s gay from everyone close to him.

The film’s unique and genuinely impressive sensitivity is due in large part to a tonal perfect screenplay by “This Is Us” co-showrunners Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (adapted from Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) that respects Simon’s decision to stay in the closet as long as possible, until he is outed by a particularly misguided classmate (Logan Miller), who initially uses the information to blackmail Simon into putting in a good word for him with one of Simon’s best female friends. Simon isn’t painted as a perfect person here; like the rest of the pre-adult world, he’s a good kid who makes poor choices at times because he’s pushed into a corner, unsure and terrified of his options.

For much of the movie, we just see Simon go through his days like we would in your standard-issue high school teen movie. He gets along with his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), but when we dig a little deeper, we figure out that his father’s seemingly harmless gay jokes sting more than Simon can let on. A big reason he stays in the closet is that he’s afraid his father will be disappointed in him; the two share a beautiful bond in the movie and no one wants to preserve that more than Simon, even if it means not being truthful.

Simon also has a tight-knit group of three friends—two he’s known since childhood (Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Katherine Langford) and a more recent addition (Alexandra Shipp), who feels like someone he’s known forever. But even with this support structure, none of them know that he’s having a secret online relationship with an unknown fellow student using the screen name “Blue.” In one of the film’s most amusing running themes, throughout the course of the relationship, Simon imagines Blue being pretty much every male student in his school, and we see imaginary scenes in which all of them couple up with Simon.

For about half of the film, Blue doesn’t know that Simon is the other person, until he is outed. But once he finds out, Blue is still too worried about coming out, despite most of the students being supportive of him. In fact, school principal Mr. Worth (a dialed-back but still amusing Tony Hale) is so supportive, he borders on overdoing things.

Director Berlanti does a beautiful job capturing the turmoil of high school with the added pressure of keeping secrets and debating if they’re with putting out into the world, as well as falling in love with someone when you don’t know if you will ever meet him. It was impossible not to watch this combination of breezy high school comedy and more serious love story and not wonder how someone like John Hughes might have handled a film like Love, Simon. Or maybe we’ve just found out. This is a sweet and moving film that is built for all, but I’m guessing it will make a lot of gay teens see the world as a safer, more compassionate place for them.

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