The teen coming-of-age movie has been done in a hundred different ways, and rarely feels subversive or original. It can either go for big laughs or pathos and heart and whenever a film tries to do both, it often fails. Love, Simon is the first teen film of its kind, with a focus on an LGBT protagonist. It’s not an arthouse film designed for a niche audience, and that’s what makes Love, Simon such a big deal. It’s not for the LGBT audience. It’s for everybody.
Simon Spier is a high school senior who, for the most part, leads a normal, happy, well-adjusted life. He has great friends and a family he likes, but he has one secret – he’s gay and he hasn’t told anyone. We focus on his journey of self-discovery and overcoming the internal obstacles of learning to not only accept, but love the person you are.
That’s partially what the film is, but it’s not as doom-and-gloomy as that sounds. In fact, this film is a total delight. Tonally, it sits between the humor of a movie like “Easy A,” with the heart of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” It’s light but meaningful. It’s glossy but real. It’s romantic, but that isn’t the most important thing going on. It’s a comedy, but it just might make you cry.
Director Greg Berlanti most often works in television, a producer of the DC superhero shows on The CW. I was worried this film might take the easy way out, or go for the cheap laugh, or moments of contrived sentimentality. It doesn’t. There’s some cheese, but every important emotional beat feels earned and authentic. It’s a teen film where teens actually talk like smart teenagers talk today. It also never feels like a sitcom or an after-school special. Screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger transcend the clichés so common in these films, vividly adapting the novel by Becky Albertalli. Her novel is streamlined in a way that doesn’t feel watered down, and really only makes positive changes from its source material.
In the novel, supporting characters – the parents, the friends, the teachers, the antagonist, etc. felt like extensions of Simon and the experience he’s going through. The film allows supporting actors to give fully dimensional performances. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents do especially good work. Natasha Rothwell is an excellent comedic relief as the school’s drama teacher. The rest of the cast – Katherine Langford, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Alexandra Shipp, Miles Heizer – look like a roll call list of actors to watch.
This is a cast full of standouts, but this is nothing short of a star-making role for Nick Robinson. I’ve seen him in a few other things, however nothing that would suggest he had a performance like this in him. He gives a brilliant and nuanced performance, saying the most in scenes where the character doesn’t say a word. This isn’t a film designed to be an awards contender, but it will definitely launch Robinson’s career in the right direction.
The truly remarkable thing about Love, Simon is that it feels like any other teen coming-of-age movie, but it’s not. This is something that has never quite been done before. The mainstream nature of this film is what makes it quietly radical. It has broad appeal and aims to bridge the gap in a divided world. It aims to do important things, but it’s really just a sweet John Hughes-ish coming-of-age movie with great performances and a terrific soundtrack. It has the ability to profoundly help people, but you only have to be human to relate. There’s truly something for everyone here. Love, Simon is one of the best films, so far, of 2018.
Love, Simon is now available on digital HD, and releases on Blu-ray and DVD on June 12th, 2018.