Movie Review: Love, Simon

An attempt at a high school drama centered on a gay teen misfires badly

Love, Simon (Ja, Simon)
Directed by Greg Berlanti
With Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner

Good intentions do not always result in a good movie. The high-school coming of age drama Love, Simon tries to sensitively deal with its main character coming out of the closet. But the film as a whole is a bit aloof, with characters and a setting that are just too bland.

Nick Robinson stars as the title character Simon Spier, who has never told even his closest friends that he prefers guys to girls. The four friends all live in suburban Atlanta in an upper-middle-class suburb where nobody seems to have any real-world problems.

In the morning, they stop at a drive-through for cappuccinos on the way to school. While there are a few hints of underage drinking of alcohol in the film, nobody seems interested in drugs. The high school seems to be a perfect place, save for two bullies who pick on the only character in the school who is openly gay, Ethan (played by Clark Moore). The bullies exist solely to move the plot late in the film.

Ethan dresses in fancy clothes acts a bit effeminate and makes witty retorts (snaps) to people's comments. Perhaps he is meant as a contrast to Simon's more masculine gay character to show some diversity, but Ethan comes off as a bit of an outdated stereotype.

Simon one day finds that he and Ethan are not the only gay students. Someone posts a comment on a social media page saying that he goes to the same school and is gay, but nobody knows. Simon and the anonymous person begin to exchange messages, while both remain in the closet. Neither knows the real identity of the other.

The guessing game sets up a bit of suspense, as the script puts several people forward to the audience as suspects, but does so in a rather clumsy manner with false leads and fake connections.

Partway through, though, the film stumbles badly. There is no way to discuss it without a few spoilers, unfortunately. There is an old trope that gay people are traitors who succumb easily to blackmail. This idea, in fact, was used for decades as the excuse to keep gay people out of the US military.

The scriptwriters, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, unfortunately, pin the bulk of the plot on Simon being blackmailed over his sexual preference, and the poor choices he makes in response to that.

For a film that is supposed to be a positive look at a young gay character, this sequence of events puts him in a very bad light and also perpetuates a stereotype that really should be put to rest.

But that isn't the film's only flaw. It tries to capture some of the spirit of films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, with quirky teachers, or 10 Things I Hate About You, with a big romantic scene in front of the whole school, but falls short. It feels like the filmmakers watched a bunch of teen films and made a pastiche of the scenes that worked the best, regardless of whether they suited this particular plot.

And as for Simon, why he has to find the other secretly gay character in his school rather than simply come out of the closet on his own is not dealt with properly. People at his school all seem very open-minded, save for the two bullies that almost everyone ignores.

Statistically, the large school should have way more than two gay students, as well as some LGBT staff members.

Recently, the 2017 film Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan as the title character, covered similar ground of an outsider who for various reasons did not fit in at her school. That film was able to create a credible environment filled with an array of believable characters. People faces some real-world problems such as the school's social hierarchy and the parents' financial issues. It was compelling viewing, even for people whose teen years were far behind them.

In Love, Simon, the filmmakers simply don't make the school into a credible space where people face real issues, aside from Simon's personal crisis and Ethan facing some bullying. Parents never fight over money, and the biggest issue most students face is whether to have a latte or a cappuccino in the morning.

The idea of a teen film centered on LGBT characters is a good one, and hopefully somebody will do it justice. Love, Simon just doesn't deliver a credible script or a believable setting. It plays its cards too safe, and loses as a result.

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