There is a contrived fantasy that surrounds ‘Love, Simon’ that makes it hard to believe in the first act of the film. Our lead character, Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a teenager who has it all. He has a perfect family and friends he has known since they were kids, and they live in a world where there is a pervasive liberal attitude that hangs in the air. The worst it ever gets is two dumb teens who make fun of the only out gay guy in school. Simon’s only conflict is that he is gay and he cannot tell anyone.
‘Love, Simon’ establishes Simon’s world at a slow pace, delving into each character -- his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), his friends, the people around school -- while exploring the struggles he has in keeping his secret from the people who matter to him the most. In such a world that is created in the film, it feels odd that Simon doesn’t come out at all.
Even when Simon finds connection with another closeted gay guy (who Simon calls Blue) through a website where people post their secrets, their correspondences through email creates a space for Simon to truly be himself and even then, the conflict feels hollow and empty. Even when Simon gets blackmailed by an obnoxious schoolmate to force Simon to help the culprit get closer to his friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp), the urgency and the need doesn’t surface.
But as the trailer reveals, his email correspondences are put on that same website and he is outed, his world changes and it’s in the middle second act when the film finds its heart.
The importance of one’s coming out takes center stage in ‘Love, Simon’ and all the emotional baggage that comes with it is put to the fore. Even in this constructed liberal fantasy, the pain and insecurities and the doubt become so real. All of a sudden, that lightness that filled the first act and the first half of the second act disappears, and it emphasizes the difficulty and the struggle.
This is the biggest surprise of ‘Love, Simon.’ The comedy is often times trite and easy. The world is idealized and romanticized, but director Greg Berlanti breaks it down the moment Simon must now face life as his true self, and it’s beautiful.
‘Love, Simon’ is not the most clever of films but it doesn’t need to be. It is heartfelt, sincere, and it genuinely comes from a good place and it hits you when you least expect it. There is an honesty to Nick Robinson’s portrayal of Simon that catches you off-guard and Berlanti maximizes Robinson’s innocence to create a character you want to root for.
Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, most notably by Garner and Duhamel, ‘Love, Simon’ sideswipes you with a world that inspires sensitivity and tenderness. There is such genuine love for the characters and the struggle that by the end of the film, everyone is cheering Simon on.
‘Love, Simon’ is unashamed to lean towards the cheesy and the corny, but it lays its foundations early and stays committed to its message that it pushes through and overturns its flaws with a big, deserved finish. It’s a film with a tender heart and it’s an important one to share in these difficult times.
Personally, I wish a film like this was made when I was a teen and needed to see it. I’ve overcome those struggles over the years, but I’m so happy that there’s a film like this for every gay teen out there right now who knows exactly what this movie is trying to show us. And that’s not corny at all.
Note: 'Love, Simon' opens in cinemas nationwide on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.