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With Love, Simon you do not just get the formula beginning with boy meets boy. It’s not quite that simple, and it’s certainly more rewarding.
Simon (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) is a good kid – smart, witty, slightly awkward – who hangs out with a trio of equally good kids, his best friends: Leah (Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Brigsby Bear, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp, Straight Outta Compton, X-Men: Apocalypse).
He has amazing parents – Jack (Josh Duhamel, too many Transformers movies), and Emily (Jennifer Garner, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) – and a sister he actually likes, Nora (Talitha Bateman, Annabelle: Creation), who loves to cook.
He also has one ‘big-ass secret’ – he’s gay.
When he learns, via the Craig’s Secret website, that there is a closeted gay boy attending his school, he begins an anonymous email correspondence with Blue (his emotionally appropriate pseudonym).
Simon’s carelessness leads to the emails being seen (and screen-grabbed) by the school’s resident super nerd, Martin (Logan Miller, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) – who blackmails him into helping him to get close to Abby.
Meanwhile, Simon is trying to learn who Blue is – is it the handsome athlete, Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale, The Flash)? The disheveled but cute Garrett (Drew Starkey, Ozark)? Or maybe Cal (Miles Heizer, 13 Reasons Why)? Or diner waiter Lyle (Joey Pollari, American Crime)?
The only guy he can rule out is the out and proud Ethan (Clark Moore) – whose ease with who he is adds a bit of intimidation to the idea of Simon coming out. Moore steals every scene he’s in, too.
Whomever it is, Simon discovers they have a lot in common (Halloween Oreos!) and falls in love with the mystery man.
At the same time, he has to negotiate school life – and figure out how to help Martin – which leads to some huge mistakes.
Written by This Is Us scribes Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (from the novel by Becky Albertalli – which I have not read) and directed by Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Arrow, Brothers & Sisters, Legends of tomorrow, etc.) Love, Simon deals with first love, coming out (and being outed), the power of anonymity on the internet, and especially, the power of gossip.
It also features the teen comedy staple, a raging party (Bram’s parents are away for the weekend, soooo…). There’s also ‘the school play’ (Cabaret!) in which every student – no matter how talentless – must play a part (that’s usually what the production side is for, but not here!).
Simon gets to have the best, most understanding family (when he and Leah return from a huge party with Simon wearing Leah’s sweater – and both clearly drunk – Jack and Emily note, with pride, that they didn’t drive drunk and were home before curfew!).
Although much is made of Simon’s sexual orientation, equal time is given to his regular, average, teenage life – and how circumstances jolt him out of it for a while.
We see him dealing with friends, school, and family in exactly the same way that most kids do – and Robinson really nails that ‘just a guy in high school’ level of the film – while also giving us the inside scoop on the part of him no one sees – via a voiceover that could have been mawkish, but really reinforces his “just a guy-ness.’
While the entire cast is excellent, special mention must be made of Tony Hale (a true comic genius) and his portrayal of Mr. Worth, the school principal – who so wants to be loved and respected by his students; and Natasha Rothwell (Saturday Night Live, Insecure), whose Ms. Albright is the non-nonsense vice principal and director of the school play.
Both infuse what on the page might be completely comic scenes and give them hints of desperation, frustration and sympathy.
One particularly interesting plot device that should be noted is the way we see, at various points, different guys typing Blue’s emails. These seem to be Simon imagining each of the possible faces behind Blue’s anonymous emails.
It’s a nice touch that adds to an audience’s empathy for Simon without being too obvious, or too subtle.
In all, Love, Simon takes the teen romcom and places it in a new and unique context.
Love, Simon Says Stuff – lightly and entertainingly – without being preachy. It’s a teen romantic comedy for our times.
Final Grade: A-