While it may not break the mould, Love, Simon certainly delivers, via email, an adorable queer teen love story. Delightful.
There’s something adorably old-fashioned about heart-starting queer teen rom com Love, Simon. While the 80s retro vibes of John Hughes school dramas are certainly present and correct, there’s also a hint of 90s Nora Ephron too.
Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by This is Us scribes Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, it stars Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as the Simon in question.
Despite living in a fairly utopian suburbia sans class and racial tension and populated with loving parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel in MIchael Stuhlbarg-lite mode) protective teachers (Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell), and a gaggle of close-knit mates, he can’t quite bring himself to come out.
It’s a fairly realistic take. Even LGBTIQ teens living in supportive city bubbles can still fear the consequences of showing their true selves, though things have certainly progressed rapidly in the last decade or so. And so when Simon’s best mate Leah (Australian Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why) alerts him to an anonymous blog post in which a fellow student, identifying only as Blue, announces he is also gay but not yet ready to fly the Pride flag publicly, the 90s alert their presence (probably by pager).
Instead of using said blog to message secretly – or creating an anonymous Instagram, Snapchat or, hell, Grindr account – instead Blue posts a Gmail addy with Simon following suit, under the pseudonym Jacques, and soon the pair are wooing each other, rather gorgeously, via email. Yup. In 2018. Sure, these missives are occasionally read on smartphones but still, it made me giggle and probably shows the age of its creators a little too clearly.
Director Greg Berlanti, having more recently gained prominence as a prolific producer of DC’s various superhero TV series, is in his element, having also helmed 2000’s cute queer indie The Broken Hearts Club that shared a similarly rosy glow.
While Love, Simon harks back to these simpler times and isn’t doing anything boundary pushing in terms of the queer canon, or even the queer teen coming out canon, having the might of a major studio behind it in 20th Century Fox, and the attendant marketing muscle, is certainly a game-changer, showing just how far we have come. There’s also something strangely subversive about the playing down of any major obstacles in Simon’s search.
Sure, he faces a nasty blackmail campaign from tech geek Martin (Logan Miller), trying to inveigle himself into the attentions of new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp) who would rather be with footy player Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr). But Simon’s basically his own worst enemy for kowtowing to Martin’s demands, rather than trusting his friends and calling him out. The ructions subsequenlty caused in the circle are engaging, but never pushed to serious stress.
Likewise, Simon’s out and proud schoolmate Ethan (Clark Moore), armed with serious eye-roll shade and snappy one-liners, and Rothwell’s non-nonsense Ms Albright, easily takes down two dude bros trying cause a homophobic scene in the canteen.
This is basically the movie form of a safe space and there’s certainly room in the world for that, particularly for questioning queer teens and their families, but also for increasingly more supportive mainstream audiences. It would take a hard heart not to melt to Love, Simon’s relentless loveliness, with my only minor quibble being that the soundtrack is pretty forgettable, with no Simple Minds-style stonker here, barring a triumphant flash of Whitney Houston. But perhaps that’s me showing my age….
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords