It’s rare that I can say a movie lives up to the book it’s based upon, but it can happen. Gregory Peck is the perfect Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Gone With the Wind” is a classic and few can argue that the Harry Potter movies aren’t completely magical. There are also those that fail miserably and don’t deserve to even be mentioned here.
Luckily, “Love, Simon” is one of the former. The film is delightful and does its namesake — well, kind of its namesake — justice. The recently released film is based on the critically acclaimed “Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda” by Becky Albertalli.
The story focuses on Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a high school junior with a big secret: He’s gay. No one knows, not even his closest friends. His parents, played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, are the perfect couple. In high school, she was the hot academic while he was the star quarterback. His little sister, Nora (Talitha Bateman), thinks she’s the next Top Chef, and Simon is quick to cheer on her every effort, even the nastiest of them. They’re a happy family, although a slightly fractured one obviously. His dad enjoys making macho jokes, and while his mom is a brilliant analyst, she misses what’s in front of her.
Simon’s not really popular, but he has a close-knit group of friends. He’s awkward and has the self-confidence of a rock. His best friend, Leah (Katherine Langford), is the shy and artsy type. They’re the couple that dresses up as John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Halloween. Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is the jock of the group, a soccer groupie who also has a crush on Abby (Alexandra Shipp), the new girl who rounds out the group.
Simon begins corresponding with a fellow gay student, code-named Blue, via email. Neither knows who the other is, but as their correspondence continues, Simon begins to develop feelings. The anonymity of a screen allows him to be open, and there’s no pressure to be anyone he isn’t. Unfortunately, Simon, with his great big heart and doe eyes, isn’t really the best at covert, and his emails are discovered by another awkward yet sleazy student named Martin (Logan Miller), who blackmails Simon into helping him get with Abby. Hijinks ensue as Simon tries to figure out his feelings and meet Martin’s demands.
In some ways, “Love, Simon” sounds like your standard rom-com. And in some ways, it is. The elements are all there: a developing love story, endearing characters and problems that must be resolved so the film can have a tidy finish.
But, “Love, Simon” takes the story somewhere different, and it’s not just because our protagonist is gay. “Simon” makes the viewer think. There’s a humorous bit in the film where Simon ponders why only homosexual people have to “come out.” After all, you straight readers never had to sit down with your parents or friends to give them the news. “Simon” takes something that is life-changing and possibly traumatic and makes it relatable to everyone, no matter your orientation.
More than that, “Simon” makes the viewer feel. Simon is as sweet as he can be. The audience is in on his secret from the beginning, obviously, and we collectively cringe with each off-color joke his dad makes. He’s the stereotypical macho dad, joking about his son’s sexual prowess or making gay jokes because he doesn’t know any better. Through it all, Simon just grins and bears it. With each disgusting dish his sister makes, he just grins and eats it. Over and over, Simon puts others’ feelings above his own. Even with the emails Martin holds hostage, Simon worries about the impact exposure would have on Blue.
There are tear-jerking moments with each of Simon’s parents as they process their son’s sexuality. Each of his friends must come to terms as well, not only with the secret he kept but also the way he manipulated their lives as he served as Martin’s pawn.
“Simon” is a story of inclusion and respect. There’s an openly gay student at school named Ethan (Clark Moore), who is the subject of bullying and taunts from a couple of douchebag losers because he’s gay. Bullying and intolerance take place every single day in schools, whether kids are being singled out because of their sexuality, gender, race, looks or any other millions of excuses that people can come up with to be mean to each other. “Simon” not only brings attention to the struggles kids go through internally as they ponder their sexuality, but it puts the cruelty of others front and center.
The film also provides a little bit of mystery for the amateur detective. Simon has no clue who Blue is, and the clues are sparse. As the film progresses, he puts various cute boys he comes across in the role of Blue. There’s Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), who likes Oreos with the orange Halloween filling. Or maybe it’s Lyle (Joey Pollari), the cute waiter at Waffle House who seems extra friendly. It might even be Cal (Miles Heizer), the pianist for the school’s production of “Cabaret.” As Simon keeps guessing, so does the audience. It’s fun and makes the big reveal even more satisfying.
“Love, Simon” is starting conversations among friends and family. It’s giving teens the courage they lacked to broach tough topics. Celebrities like Kristen Bell, Neil Patrick Harris and more have bought out screenings of the film and given tickets away for free, to help make the film accessible.
It’s a powerful film but also a truly enjoyable one. Greg Berlanti directs, and as the mastermind behind the CW’s hit shows like “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and the other DC-centric programs, he knows what appeals to audiences. Fun fact: Berlanti’s directorial film debut came in 2000 with “The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy,” a film about a group of gay friends. I’d picked up the movie because Dean Cain (“The Adventures of Lois and Clark”) was among the cast, but it also starred Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, John Mahoney, Andrew Keegan and more. Younger me thought a film about gay men was rather risque, but this is how far we’ve come, or at least how far I have. It’s also no surprise the film is full of laughs, all the while tugging at heartstrings. It’s written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, the co-showrunners and executive producers of “This Is Us.” Enough said.
“Love, Simon” is a great movie based on a great book. I love both mediums, and I’m rarely unable to articulate my feelings and thoughts about works. Even though my heart is full of emotions and my mind is full of ideas about this one, I find myself struggling to come up with anything that can convey this film’s merits in a meaningful way. I’d recommend you go out and see it too. Maybe you can find those words. If you do, be part of the growing movement and spread the good word.