Director: Greg Berlanti
Cast: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg Jr with Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner
Plot: Simon Spiers (Robinson) is hiding a secret from his world and he can only express his sexuality with an anonymous friend online.
The first thing director Greg Berlanti does is decide the kind of film that Love, Simon isn’t. This is not a film about a stereotypical gay character hiding his sexuality from the world. Nick Robinson’s Simon is nothing like the clichéd mess you are scared he might be, a grounded thoughtful character whose winning quality is his normalness. Neither is this a film that overtly screams gay rights. There is a sense that Berlanti’s movie isn’t being made to the change the world, like other LGBT hits like Pride and Blue is the Warmest Colour. This isn’t a movie that forces the subject of homosexuality down the audience’s throat, which feels especially rewarding considering that audiences who are watching this movie clearly have no problem with LGBT themes, but do not fancy being preached to for two hours. In fact, homosexuality feels like the main theme of a multi-layered story that discusses everything from romance in a friend group, teenagers struggling to fit in and the simple question of identity. Love, Simon is portrayed in a way that suggests that Berlanti is asking us to swap out the homosexuality of the lead character for our own secrets and tailor the moral to our own lives.
Therefore, stripping away what the movie isn’t, Love, Simon can focus on being the movie it is: and that is a bloody good one. It isn’t long before the secret gay narrative is unpacked and Berlanti can settle into a charming high school movie. The themes and character arcs are relaxingly comfortable, as we get the beats we are used to, such as the quirky best friend, the weirdo and the over-friendly Vice Principal character. And, while every high school movie under the sun probably claims the same thing, in grounding everyone with these simple stereotypes, they are allowed to break away from the cliché. Alexandra Shipp is the loud party girl but breaks away into something more tender. Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner provide the star power as Simon’s parents and their characters break away into something truly remarkable in the final third (although again beautifully understated). Berlanti smartly waters down the themes of the movie is a pseudo-mystery storyline, where we are left guessing for the movie’s entire running time, who Simon’s anonymous gay pen-pal is. It fuels the pace of the film, helping us fall in love with the characters without us even realising what is happening. However, the real star of the show is Nick Robinson who takes the lead character of Simon. There must have been several temptations with playing the secret gay teenager, like camping it up or delivering insults with sassiness. But either Robinson or Berlanti reined that in, so Simon feels like just another normal teenage boy. There is one scene where Simon pictures himself in a musical number that purposefully pokes fun at the movie Love, Simon could have been. It’s not even the campness that Robinson holds back on, but anything. His acting is stripped back, minimalist and reserved. There are some parts of the movie where you wish that the character showed more bite, but the truth behind the decision to keep Robinson’s performance subdued becomes clear the deeper into the movie you get. The character screams ‘real’, coming across as so much more than a lead character in a movie. Simon could be any one of us and, in not blowing the emotion early on, when the movie creeps to its finale, the character pulled in emotionally pain-staking directions, the drama is much more hard-hitting.
Final Verdict: Love, Simon’s greatest strength is in how real it feels, coming across as a grounded, clever high school movie, rather than a preachy LGBT effort.