Beautiful Secret Love Story
Something happened at my screening of Love, Simon that I’ve not experienced in a theater in quite some time… if ever. And it was beautiful. As the identity of the titular character’s secret crush was revealed to the audience near the end of the film, the entire theater burst into roaring cheers, squeals, and applause. I mean “Beatles play Shea Stadium” level of applause.
Then when the secret lovers finally kiss, the ovation was even greater. This wouldn’t necessarily be an observation worth pointing out as it is not that unusual for an auditorium full of hormonally-charged teenagers (mostly girls) to so raucously applaud when a high school coming-of-age story so perfectly nails their own experience. It is just what they do. But this was different.
See, the object of Simon’s affection was another guy. They were both secretly in love with one another, and they were gay. Yet that fact didn’t matter to the audience. All that mattered was that Simon’s personal story of secret love and coming out -- as he cautiously muddled through the horrors of his high school years -- had hit every audience member squarely in the heart. Perhaps our society has finally begun to make some tangible headway into the universal acceptance of those who are different. Or, at the very least, perhaps our younger generation has. We didn’t see it as a gay love story. To us, it was just a love story. And the shared experience was beautiful.
Love, Simon comes from the wildly popular and award-winning YA novel called Simon vs. The Homo Sapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli and is about Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a high school student who is gay but who hasn’t yet come out to his family and friends. His reluctance to tell everyone isn’t so much out of fear of what they will say, after all he is a popular student with good grades and is involved in many extracurricular school activities. He just doesn’t want things to change.
But things do suddenly change when obnoxiously awkward student, Martin (Logan Miller) accidentally stumbles upon Simon’s secret emails to another gay student with whom Simon has fallen in love. Neither Simon nor his secret pen pal “Blue” is comfortable with coming out yet, but when Martin uses the release of the emails to blackmail Simon into hooking him up with Simon’s close friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp), the plots of love, deceit, and betrayal get quite heavy.
Yet director Greg Berlanti never pours it on too thick, nor does he take anything too seriously either. In fact, the whole thing has a breezy John Hughes warmth and familiarity to it with extremely lovable and relatable high school characters who live in a fun, sweet, and very realistic world. Berlanti and screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker remind us of the tough issues and challenges that gay individuals still face, yet balance those with a deeply empathetic love story that feels very real. Even Martin, who is clearly the bad guy, manages a significant amount of sympathy while demonstrating that what he did was very bad.
There’s a persistent thread of mystery that sews the film’s many parts together quite nicely. Throughout the entire movie, Simon is trying to find out who “Blue” is and we see many of the potential candidates play out as comical montages in Simon’s mind. It’s a fantastically written game of cat and mouse -- with plenty of red herrings and false clues -- that keeps us entertained and on our toes.
Robinson, who you might remember from Jurassic World and more recently Everything, Everything, shows a quite complex range of emotions and makes the movie what it is. The story is a balancing act with a perfectly executed payoff that might not have had the same impact without Robinson’s heart-warming breakout performance. If Robinson stumbles, none of this works. He doesn’t and neither do any of the other cast members.
Love, Simon is somewhat formulaic in that it follows many of the familiar coming-of-age tale conventions. Yet, at the same time, it explores new territory, as we’ve never seen a high school romantic comedy with a gay teenage lead. If my screening was any indication, we’re getting closer to that fact not mattering.
(Released by by Fox 2000 Pictures/ Twentieth Century Fox. Rated “PG-13” for thematic elements, sexual references, language, and teen partying.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.