Simon Spier has “one huge-ass secret.” The high school student with a loving family and great friends is gay, but he’s terrified to let anyone know it. He fears that his family and friends won’t be able to accept this aspect of his identity. Getting through high school is hard enough, and Simon sees every day just how close-minded people can be. He sees some of his fellow students taunt Ethan, an openly gay classmate. Love, Simon deals with the struggles of its titular character with empathy and humor. The movie is essentially a coming out romantic comedy. It’s a heartwarming antidote to cynicism and pessimism, two qualities in which the world is currently inundated.
The catalyst for Love, Simon’s plot is a gossip website called Creek Secrets, where the students who attend Simon’s high school gather to make confessions and accusations– all anonymously, of course. Simon’s best friend, Leah, tells him that someone using the pseudonym “Blue” has posted on the site about being in the closet. Just like Simon, “Blue” is filled with anxiety about coming out. Simon emails “Blue” using the name “Jacques.” The two start a dialog and for the first time, Simon allows himself to explore the possibility of falling in love. He’s put in an awkward position when he forgets to log out of his “Jacques” Gmail address on a school computer. Martin, the class clown and all-around jack ass, sits down at the computer as Simon is leaving and, when he connects the dots, takes pictures of the email exchanges between “Blue” and “Jacques.” Martin has a crush on Abby – another of Simon’s close friends – and he threatens to out Simon to the whole school unless he helps Martin get close to Abby.
What feels so fresh about Love, Simon is that it operates like so many other high school first love movies, only from a perspective that mainstream Hollywood has until now never embraced. Other critics have compared it to the teen-angst filled work of John Hughes. Besides his huge secret, Simon is your ordinary, everyday teenager. He tells us early in the film in voice-over that he hangs out with his friends, watches bad 90s movies, and drinks way too much iced coffee. He also does things like help his clueless dad fix a terrible homemade anniversary video.
We’ve seen similar scenarios, but where Love, Simon shines is in exploring first love when it’s tied up in an identity that many people – especially teenagers – still ridicule. There’s something powerful in the email exchanges between “Blue” and “Jacques” as they describe when they first discovered that they were gay. “Blue” tells of his friends’ anticipation in seeing boobs while watching Game of Thrones, but for him the most exciting thing was crushing on Jon Snow.
Simon describes his first romantic celebrity fixation – Daniel Radcliff as Harry Potter. It’s a hilarious sequence that flashes back to Simon as a 12-year-old. He's plagued by the same wet dream every night for a week. It’s an experience most of us remember from our youth, and the opportunity that the movie presents for straight audience members to identify with gay people is brilliantly executed.
Love, Simon presents the email exchanges by alternating between close-ups of Simon’s face, his hands feverishly typing, and words flying across a computer screen. We see Simon plunge into his first love, and director Greg Berlanti is adept at reminding us what the experience is like. There’s an added element of mystery, as Simon doesn’t actually know with whom he’s corresponding. Throughout the movie, Simon imagines different people sitting at a computer, typing out the cherished missives. At first it’s a vague athletic type, and we never quite see his face. Then, as Simon begins to suspect and dismiss different people at his school, these people alternate turns at the keyboard. Could it be Lyle, the cute guy who has an after-school job at the local Waffle House? Maybe it’s Bram, the guy who decides to throw a Halloween party when his parents leave town for a few days.
Simon’s imagination is lively, and it supplies the movie with it’s most memorable moments. In one scene, he opines to us how unfair it is that gay people are the ones who have to “come out.” He visualizes what it might be like if it were straight people who had the burden of announcing their sexuality to their friends and family. In a conversation with “Blue,” the two write about an idealized future when they can finally be their true selves after they’ve moved away to college. Simon’s ideal of what gay life will be like in college is over-the-top, to say the least, and it provides some of the movie’s biggest laughs.
Despite how revolutionary Love, Simon’s ordinary tale of teenage first love feels because of who Simon is, this is a romantic comedy. The movie does fall into some very familiar tropes we’ve come to expect with the genre. The blackmail scheme that Martin instigates causes Simon to lie to his friends in order to protect his secret. The generic cycle is here: close bonds, betrayed trust and hurt feelings, emotional reconciliation. It’s between friends instead of lovers, however, which isn’t usually the case in a romantic comedy. There is also a series of emotional scenes near the end of the movie between Simon and his mom, then Leah, then his dad, that feel overwhelming. Each one is heartfelt and moving, but clustered the way they are, one right after the other, the effect becomes dramatically numbing.
Love, Simon is a movie that is effortless in its charm. It’s a crowd-pleaser that is undeniably likable. It deals with serious topics like the struggle of being accepted for who you are, but it does so with a light touch that is full of hope and laughs. It’s a sunny day of a movie. Who doesn’t need that once in a while?
Why it got 4 stars:
- Love, Simon is just plain entertaining. Berlanti does a phenomenal job of keeping things light and fun, while also dealing with some serious issues. This would make an excellent date movie, if you need one.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- Just in case you were wondering, I owe my own earliest memory of a celebrity crush to Mr. Hughes. To this day, I still remember a recurring dream I had as an adolescent involving Kelly LeBrock as her character in the movie Weird Science.
- The actors playing the kids in this movie steal the show. The ones playing adults are the weakest part of the movie. Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell play Simon's vice principal and drama teacher, respectively, and they are both way too broad for what the rest of the movie is doing. Rothwell's Ms. Albright does have a satisfying scene near the end where she confronts the school's biggest bullies, though.
- Contradicting what I just said, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play Simon's parents, and they are both good. Neither gets quite enough to do, which is fine since the kids are the focus of the movie.
- As a general rule, movies are made by movie nerds, so it was an interesting decision to make the biggest villain, the blackmailing Martin, a movie aficionado. I haven't read the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, on which the movie is based, so I wonder if that aspect of Martin's character comes from the book, or was added for the movie.
- The scene where Simon comes out for the first time, to one of his friends, is quite moving. I have little-to-no frame of reference, but it felt very authentic.
Close encounters with people who don't know how to act in a movie theater:
- It was a tiny but great crowd. The audience applauded when the movie ended, signifying that they thought it was something pretty special.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- Talk has been at a fever pitch that Avengers: Infinity War will see the death of one of our beloved heroes. I have avoided every bit speculation about which one. While I don't go out of my way to review every blockbuster that comes along (I've heard that Rampage is gloriously terrible, but I can't say for myself), I usually try to check in with Cap. and the gang whenever they have a new adventure together.