Love, Simon is a smart, funny, and endlessly charming teen comedy in the vein of Mean Girls and Easy A. Fundamentally about friendship, being yourself, and living the life you deserve, this rare, uplifting, “romantic AF” LGBTQ movie is to be prized. With a modern soundtrack and a diverse cast, Love, Simon is the kind of movie many people wish they had growing up.
Simon (Nick Robinson) and his friends are seniors, counting down the days until high school is over. But Simon is also counting down until he can go off to college and finally come out, away from his lifelong friends and close, loving family. Complicating all of this is an anonymous post from “Blue,” another closeted guy at Simon’s school, on the school’s PostSecret/Whisper/Yik Yak-style site. Simon begins emailing Blue, his only gay friend – there’s another gay kid at school, Ethan, but he’s femme and flamboyant in a way that makes Simon uncomfortable. More on that in a bit.
Simon’s story really gets moving as he and Blue grow closer, only to find out that another student found the emails and knows that Simon is gay. The obnoxious student blackmails Simon into helping him date one of Simon’s best friends. Simon tries desperately to keep his secret from everyone as he falls in love and tries to uncover Blue’s identity, imagining one student after another as his anonymous crush in the movie’s occasional fantasy sequences, which also allow the script to explore Simon’s possibilities of an unknown future out of the closet.
The first 20 minutes or so are spent on setting up Simon’s world, and it’s the only part of the film that drags. It’s full of a sort of “let’s get going already!” sense of anticipation for the real story to begin.
Once it gets going though, Love, Simon is a laugh a minute, with the kind of lines we’ve come to expect from director Greg Berlanti’s other projects, like Dawson’s Creek, Everwood, and the superhero half of the CW lineup. It mines Gen Z touchstones for comedy, but in a way that is still accessible for all of us Olds. One of the best sources of comedy is Natasha Rothwell, who plays beleaguered drama teacher Ms. Albright leading a rather doomed production of Cabaret. She has perhaps the most jokes out of any character in the script, and her performance adds to it by turning even the smallest gesture or line into more. The Insecure writer/actor double threat should get more opportunities to steal every scene she’s in.
On an emotional level, there’s an unspoken reality that for many LGBTQ kids, the drama club is the only place where they feel safe. It’s often where kids first come out, or where they might be exiled to; and at least in my town, it’s where students and parents rallied together to take care of kids whose parents kicked them out.
Jennifer Garner plays Simon’s kind, intuitive mom in a role that I imagine is the adoptive mother from Juno many years later. There’s also Nora, Simon’s sister (played by the winning Talitha Bateman), and a (somewhat) upgraded husband, played with goofy aplomb by Josh Duhamel. Tony Hale shines in a rare role as Simon’s capable (but still corny) principal. Katherine Langford is Simon’s best friend, Leah, who has a crush on a mystery guy. Alexandra Shipp plays the genuinely cool new girl Abby, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is a sweet and highly realistic childhood friend, and The Flash’s Keiynan Lonsdale is peripheral friend Bram with an A+ Halloween costume. All of the teen roles are a joy to watch.
Early on, there are a few goofy examples of unrealistic non-answering of the type that makes me cringe. With a PG-13 rating, there’s not much that Love, Simon can say without drawing the ire of the MPAA. But when Love, Simon finally chooses to use profanity, it is powerful, realistic, and emotionally charged. Clearly a strategic choice, when used, the profanity always hits home.
The movie addresses head on the question of whether we even need movies like Love, Simon anymore. It’s easy for straight kids (and straight-passing ones like Simon) to say that being gay isn’t a big deal anymore. But the audience can clearly see the near-constant harassment directed toward Ethan (Clark Moore), even when Simon himself doesn’t, and the jokes that Simon’s dad makes are sadly commonplace. Simon learns important lessons about his assumptions – about his family, his friends, and the one out gay kid at school, as he struggles to figure out what being gay means to him.
Love, Simon is a bit more forgiving of some of its characters than I was. The blackmailer is redeemed earlier and easier than he deserves. Simon’s father, too, is forgiven of his trepidation and homophobic humor without showing any real movement or growth, although a particularly cathartic family moment helps take some of the sting out.
An extended sequence near the end moved many in my screening to sob audibly – in a good way. On the whole, the movie provoked consistent and effusive audience reactions of joy, laughter, and appreciation throughout my screening, which was attended almost entirely by young adults, queer folks, and people of color, or some combination.
The movie’s finale was satisfying, tying up the various threads of the story while acknowledging that Simon is just at the beginning of his journey. Go see this movie if you want to spend an evening grinning, laughing, dabbing away the occasional tear, and remembering what it’s like to fall in love. Most importantly, take the teens in your life to see this film – you won’t regret it and neither will they.