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Review: Love, Simon

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Gay teen romance, sponsored by Google and Oreos

Love, Simon is the story of Simon Spier, a closeted high school student who isn't sure of how or when to come out, when another student at his school posts anonymously about being gay on his school's Tumblr. He responds with his own anonymous email account, and they strike up a friendship that evolves into something more, despite them both keeping their identities secret. The situation is complicated when another student discovers and screenshots their conversations, blackmailing Simon into helping him win favor with one of Simon's good friends.

Full disclosure: I'm a gay man, and I was fully expecting to hate this movie. The first trailer made it seem like it would be cliche ridden twee Young Adult novel bullshit. That's ehhhh not entirely inaccurate, but it surprisingly managed to come together as a compelling story that - at its core - rang surprisingly true.

Love, Simon
Director: Greg Berlanti
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: March 16, 2018

Love, Simon started off very weak. Every character's dialog was the kind of unnatural, stilted stuff that only characters in novels say. I knew almost nothing about this movie going in, but in the first five minutes I knew it was adapted from a Young Adult novel (Becky Albertalli's 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it turns out).

His parents are soooo chipper and quipping about the importance of breakfast and his little sister is an aspiring chef because of Food Network and he just has THE BESTEST FRIENDS YOU GUYS. They drink iced coffee and throw food at each other in the cafeteria and ugh my god I was dying. I instantly hated everyone. It was enough saccharine bullshit to give every lab rat on earth cancer.

But then the movie got better. Once the awful introduction was over, dialog took on normal human speech patterns, Simon and his friends became likable, realistic teenagers (despite every one of them being clearly over 20), and I suddenly found myself on board. The mystery of who the other anonymous gay student is keeps things interesting, and Simon borks up his life a little trying to keep a secret he's not even sure he needs to keep anymore. 

The performances are all pretty solid, and the movie balances the secret-gay-love-pen-pals plot with some decent humor and cringeworthy high school awkwardness. It's Degrassi-level drama and aside from the gay angle, not super out of the ordinary for most of what goes down in the plot.

Love, Simon is interesting because it's the first major-studio release of a gay-focused high school love story. Gay cinema is usually fairly indie, and tends to skew towards either depressing or full-on camp. This definitely has its drama, but it never really gets into high-stakes territory. Nobody dies, which is a rarity. Bury Your Gays is an upsettingly common trope. Not to say that a lot of gay cinema isn't reflective of how things shook out for us for the majority of history. It largely hasn't been a super fun time, so this movie's more mundane problems were refreshing.

Simon's reluctance to come out may seem stupid, as his liberal-leaning, extremely loving family and friends don't give any indication that they'd have a problem with it. Still, I fully get it. This movie hit a few nerves for how I felt prior to/during the process of coming out. Replace Gmail & FaceTime with AIM and you'd have an early-00's me awkwardly testing the waters with my closest friends. Probably nothing will happen. But what if it does? It's all the general anxiety of being in high school PLUS this whole other thing that could permanently change your relationship with any/all of your friends and family. This movie captured it surprisingly well, and I'm not sure how much of it was thanks the original book (written by a straight woman), the screenwriter, or the openly gay director, Greg Berlanti. 

I also appreciated the inclusion of Ethan, another classmate outside Simon's circle of friends who's already out, but is more 'visibly' gay. Simon can pass as straight, but this other kid never had the option. The movie is Simon's story, but it provided some context for the array of experiences gay people have around that time in their lives.

Love, Simon stalls any time his parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) come back into play, because they're so unnaturally written. The movie also resolves in a 'because the script says so' kind of way, when a bunch of significant problems that Simon's struggle to keep his secret creates are casually waved away to make for a happy ending. The happy ending also includes a fairly grand, public gesture that seems extremely at odds with everything that happened prior between Simon and his secret gay pen pal. It felt very forced, or like the script jumped over a few chapters of the book. I was pretty bummed that the incredible recovery this movie made after it's garbage opening fell apart again at the end.

This movie was a sandwich of crowd-pleasing teen romance & light mystery, made with some really terrible schmaltzy bread. That said, I enjoyed the middle enough to somewhat forgive its shortcomings.

Love, Simon premieres March 16, 2018.


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Love, Simon reviewed by Gregg Gaddy

6.5

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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