Love, Simon is a good enough title for a teen romantic comedy. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda would have been a great title, but I’m glad they changed it. While I haven’t read the book that Greg Berlanti’s film is based on, I think there’s a distinction to be made in terms of tone there. For the purposes of the story as presented on screen, Simon isn’t exactly vs. anyone. He’s cool, has fun, supportive friends, and a happy enough home life. Simon, as he tells us via his opening narration, is just like you.
Simon’s secret, of course, is that he’s gay. And it’s here that the title change comes into play. Love, Simon is very much the film’s mission statement as well as title, and everyone involved has put effort into creating realistic, complex characters that are still as screwed up and goofy as any gang of high schoolers in any other mainstream comedy, even borrowing heavily — and weirdly specifically — from the John Hughes and Savage Steve Holland universes (that’s meant as a compliment, more or less). The biggest difference is that we actually care very much what happens to these kids, we feel their pain when they make mistakes, and we cringe when they enact grand melodramatic gestures and are immediately reminded of how ridiculous grand melodramatic gestures usually are.
I usually flash immediately to the opening scenes of Heiner Carow’s great Coming Out whenever I watch a movie like this, just to psych myself up to the darkest possible places a story like this might go. Thankfully, Love, Simon is about as warm and cuddly as they come for being a film about a closeted kid being blackmailed into pawning his new best friend off onto the sleaziest classmate since Jerry Levine and Curtis Armstrong were young enough to semi-convincingly pass as teenagers.
Simon has been secretly emailing and getting to know another closeted classmate. Since they use codenames, they don’t know each other’s true identities. The film has a lot of fun with the guessing game of who might be on the other end of those emails and goes deep with how meaningful — and painful — it can be to get to know someone and fall in love from such a distance that the closer you get, the farther away they feel. It’s strange to see a movie get things like that so right, even more so when it’s tied to an actor just sitting and typing for half the movie.
A lot of credit here goes to Nick Robinson as Simon, who has the confident smirk of a cool kid ready to crack into a million pieces. And Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller and Jorge Lendeborg, as Simon’s closest friends (and Clark Moore as Simon’s openly gay classmate) all do well by a script that could have seemed a little more unwieldy than it is — and it is, a little — turning in convincing, funny and smart performances.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying.
Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.