Film review by Jason Day of Love, Simon about a gay teenage boy who is outed and must face the High School hallway of shame. Starring Nick Robinson and Jennifer Garner.
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Teenager Simon (Nick Robinson) appears to have it all. His wealthy family love him and he even has a younger sister (Talitha Bateman) who doesn’t annoy him. His friends are cool, relaxed and adore him and he even does well at school. His big secret? He’s gay.
All is well in his settled, comfortable world but he can’t hide his real self for long. Striking up a conversation online with another closeted teenager, he quickly falls in love. When a spiteful acquaintance ‘outs’ Simon, his comfy world suddenly collapses around him. Will he ever find his one true love, the mysterious ‘blue’?
Review, by Jason Day
You know those cutesy, saccharine Nicholas Sparks authored film adaptations, about young love triumphing against the tyrannies of the world?
You know, The Notebook (2004), Dear John (2010), The Best of Me (2014) etc.
OK, keep that picture in mind but with one amend. The leading male character…is gay!
Fret not fans of Mr Sparks for Love, Simon actually comes from the pen of Becky Albertalli, based on her novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but you’d be forgiven for confusing the two.
Our hero, played with an everyman, Jimmy Stewart charm by Robinson, tells us from the outset that is just like all of us.
Correct, if all of ‘us’ really are, like him – male, white, young, attractive, well adjusted, popular at school, middle-class with gorgeous and relatively well-off parents, one of whom is a liberal mental health professional.
So, with all of that non-baggage, where’s the trouble and strife for this young gay fella? Growing up gay in the shadow of Section 28 as I did, at a British comprehensive in the 1990’s it was an era not noted for its benevolence toward putative queers such as I, my recollection of teenage sexual awakening is decidedly less rose-tinted.
Talking about being gay during ‘personal development’ classes was uncomfortable and frequently lead to an institutional roasting from my peers. I quickly learnt that to survive, you kept quiet, head down, at the back of the classroom.
As difficult coming outs go, Simon’s is simple.
One thing that has changed down the years and that Love, Simon wonderfully captures, is the switch in verbal dominance between the orientations. The sexual insults feature far more stinging rebukes from gays to straights than when I was growing up.
Maybe I’m a grumpy old gay, but I found the teenage dialogue, though sounding completely accurate, really distancing. The too frequent use of the word ‘like’, machine-gun rapid delivery and swift, glib observations that pass for witty retort, the first 10 minutes felt like all my cinematic ‘Nams had hit me in one fell swoop.
But that dialogue constitutes a script that is still bang on in getting the mood of being a teenager. For instance, when Leah (Katherine Langford) movingly describes her feelings of uncertainty, as if she walks around in a perpetual out of body experience and questioning who she is and why she does things that aren’t really her.
Sex in the digital age is still as fraught as when internet dating first got off the ground twenty-odd years ago. Simon, thrilled by the mystery of his cyber liaison, digitally undressing his anonymous partner, soon discovers the price for over-sharing on your MacBook.
He hasn’t even tried Grindr yet but his Dad, not versed in the ways of the gay sex-when-you-are-on-the-move app, innocently suggests they both create profiles.
Love, Simon is cocooned in a sanitised, glowing suburbian paradise where homophobia is a series of limp-wristed comments tackled by a community who have all undergone some form of equality and diversity training. Simon and our kind are shielded from the real brutality of what the adult straight world has to ‘offer’ gay men, but the film’s flagrant, mythology is still marvellous in our eyes.
It’s teary, lush, wonderful and utterly unbelievable, fantasy fulfilment of the glossiest and most inoffensive kind, as if this is the perfect coming out and that everything will be OK, just as your parents tell you.
It also means, given the increasing incidence of violent assaults on gay men and other sexual and gender minorities, more confident in being more publicly out, the film’s warm and cosy view of this most important time for young gays is potentially dangerous.
The difficulties that come thereafter are not what this film sets out to cover (and shouldn’t. Quite rightly we have a pleasant take on coming out that isn’t all doom and gloom). But watch your back lads; those High School bullies really aren’t quietened by a teacher with a gift of the gab. When publicly humiliated, they usually come back for more.
It’ll be a bumpy ride from here on in Simon love, but fasten your seatbelt, keep that optimism in place and enjoy your cinematic idyll.
See the official Love, Simon website for more.
Cast & credits
Director: Greg Berlanti. 1hr 50mins (110mins). Fox 2000 Pictures/New Leaf Literary & Media/Temple Hill Entertainment/Twisted Media. (12a).
Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Pouya Shahbazian.
Writer: Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker.
Camera: John Guleserian.
Music: Rob Simonsen.
Sets: Aaron Osborne.
Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Talitha Bateman, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell.