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Sunday
Mar182018

Review: Love Simon

Stepping in briefly from vacation to celebrate Love, Simon. This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad.

Vanilla is a delicious flavor. Especially if you’re in the right mood for it. Loving vanilla doesn’t mean you can’t love more daring or less common flavors. But you deserve a good scoop of vanilla on occasion. The best thing that can be said of Love, Simon — and this is stronger praise than it sounds — is that it’s very vanilla. Imagine a cross between classic rom-coms like Sleepless in Seattle and Never Been Kissed and then just flip it a teensy-tiny bit until it’s gay. Not queer, mind you; we’re going for vanilla.

Love, Simon, the new film directed by gay TV power-producer Greg Berlanti (Flash, RiverdaleBrothers & Sisters, etcetera), is based on the novel “Simon vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda”. Though the novel’s title (I haven’t read it) suggests something less pro-heteronormativity, the film version is quite happy with assimilation. The only thing about Simon (Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) that “reads” as gay or at all discomfited by his suburban nuclear family life is his inner monologue in which he tells us about his “huge-ass secret”...

Simon and his best galpal

His life gets complicated when he falls in love over email with an anonymous classmate who calls himself “Blue." Another obnoxious classmate named Martin (Logan Miller) finds out about them and threatens to out Simon unless… [nope, no  spoilers!]

Since Simon is a teenager in a diverse seemingly progressive suburb of Atlanta, the biggest mystery of the film is not who “Blue” is but why Simon is so nervous about coming out. You immediately get the sense that his parents will be fine with it. They’re played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, both exuding stuffed animal levels of cuddly unconditional love.

Simon’s friends are nice and chill about virtually everything except their own romantic dramas. Jorge Lendeborg Jr is a sweet funny stand-out in the supporting cast as Simon’s straight friend Nick, who is flattened by his own crush on one of their mutual girlfriends.

There’s a lovely if overtly scripted moment in the film when Jennifer Garner gets to be a wildly affirming super-mom. She tells her son he can stop holding it in and just breathe now. Nick Robinson leans a bit hard into this ‘Simon is too careful / tense’ notion because as leading man star turns go, he risks walking on the bland side. But here’s the thing: It’s easy to quibble with Love Simon but when I caught myself doing just that, I felt ungrateful and quickly went back to just smiling through it. The movie is consistently funny and charming, too. At its core Love Simon is a good-hearted mainstream movie about a gay kid and how many of those do we get? Not many. In fact, not any.

Until now. 

Simon's parents are awesome. Exhibit: Dad (Josh Duhamel)

Love Simon is the very first wide-release studio movie about a gay kid falling in love. It might be long past due but it’s also right on time. So cheer it on.

Will Simon meet his online soulmate and live happily ever after? Will he sort out the mess he’s made of his life by not being his true self? Despite mandatory plot obstacles and playfully sustained “who is it?” cinematic interludes about Blue’s possible identity, Love, Simon is not a twisty film and it aims to reinvent no wheels. But predictability can be a comforting asset. The mainstream rom-com genre is vanilla to the core. Love Simon isn’t interested in changing the formula, it’s just throwing rainbow sprinkles on top. 

Grade: B
Oscar Chances: Nope, but it's not that kind of movie. 

more LGBT | recent Reviews | more High School Movies

 

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Reader Comments (29)

You should read the book. It was an impulse buy for me; I was on Amazon, and a few books came up as suggestions that I might like. I read the description, and I decided to buy it. Once I had finished it, I emailed the author and thanked her for writing such a great book. I told her I wished there had been books like that around when I was a teenager. She wrote back with a very grateful and sincere email. Truly a lovely person, and I can't recommend this book enough. We need more books about gay kids that are filled with hope and love and joy.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTommy

For Oscar chances, I think if the lineup is as sparse as this year, Adapted Screenplay could be a remote possibility, perhaps.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

It looks like a cute movie. It's too bad its opening weekend box office was just ok but it got a great cinemascore so maybe it will be leggy.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

I kinda wanna see it for Katherine Langford???

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

I saw it and was overwhelmed by the feeling that I would've been obsessed with this film if it had come out 15 years ago. Fortunately, I still found it very charming and happy it's out there. Really hope more people see it, especially those younger than 18.

Also Garner's speech drove me to tears. Don't judge.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

It's definitely cute, and its significance, value and important to the queer kids out there cannot be stressed enough. I know if I had seen this movie 10 years ago it would've meant the world to me.

That said there's a lot of components in the movie that are unfortunate and very troubling, and I'm disappointed to see criticisms of it quite muted. Do we deserve representation? Yes, of course. Do we deserve good representation? That too. We can acknowledge the value of a movie like this without pretending it's actually...great.

It's a movie made for straight audiences to make gay more palatable for them. And unfortunately with it comes a lot of tropes that I thought had been exhausted in gay representation (beginning with the cis-abled, white, straight acting protagonist that is "just like everyone else").

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

Did you also find the Miles Heizer character underutilized? And why couldn't he have played Simon?

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

AlexD

Since when is a cis gay man not good representation? You re living in an uber liberal bubble, my friend. I'm assuming you mean "straight acting" as in the character isn't flamboyant. Isn't that its own stereotype? If anything a gay man who isn't a squeaky-voiced feminine caricature is bucking stereotypes.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTr

@Tr I never said cis gay men were not good representation. My post specifically said straight acting.

My point isn't that that's bad representation, it's that it's one again the only representation. Squeaky voiced feminine caricatures exist, usually as punchlines. That is wrong, but representation of queer people in the media, especially mainstream, is severely restricted to straight acting, white cis-abled men. This and Call Me By Your Name just to name a few. A movie that positions itself as a forward thinking example of representation doesn't do anything Will & Grace didn't do 20 years ago. Once again works under the umbrella that *THIS* is what gay people are and how "normal" they are.

There's a huge missed opportunity with the feminine, openly out queer kid that also happens to be poc. Meanwhile he's used as a trope, for example. Another shortcoming of the film.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

This is not a good movie! Simon says he's "normal" except that he's gay. What part of being privileged, coming from an upper middle class family, having a car at 16 is normal? Also, Nick Robinson doesn't come off as gay at all. Furthermore, why doesn't Jennifer Garner hug her son when he comes out? She's a therapist?

And don't EVEN get me started on that La La Land sequence where he says, "I'm not that gay."

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike B.

The theater I saw this with applauded at the end. I was surprised at how good it actually was and Jennifer Garner just broke my heart. A+

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

Just got back from this and loved it. It's not perfect (that opening 'I'm just like everyone else!' moment, directly followed by his parents giving him a new car, is a little cringe-y), but still much better than I expected given the 'safe but gay' narrative the film is beginning to take on. Like most of us, I'm more than a little blinded by how happy this would have made me if I'd had it as a teenager. Sure, it's pure, sugar-coated fantasy, but I'm still not far away enough from my own far less rosy teenage years to be strong enough to look this gift-fantasy in the mouth.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoe K

I applaud the good intentions here, but was still a little bored by the actual movie. I wish Simon the character had more of a personality - we learn so little about him! His little sister gets a defining quirk but we don't even know what Simon wants to do after high school, why he's in the school play, is he involved in anything else at school... If his vagueness is meant to be a symptom of the closet, the movie doesn't really clarify that.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Cis able? Seriously? Alex D this is movie aimed at general audiences not the political correct police- are we going to criticized every gay theme movie that comes out because it doesn't fit some minority political agenda. I actually had to argue with people who call themselves liberal about the wonderful "Call Me By Your Name" because they kept saying it was about "pedophelia"?! Of course these are like a lot of Hollywood liberals who will say they are pro gay as long the gays remain sexless clown. I have not seen this film but I will- wish it had been around when I was a gay teen

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I agree with AlexD.

If only we could get a gay character who doesn't spend so much time wanting to make straight audiences comfortable. "I'm just like you" Eww no I'm not.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMya

Jaragon you thought call me by your name was wonderful? Ha bless your heart.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRiley

Riley - no need to be condescending... a LOT of people here and in the world think Call Me By Your Name is wonderful. It's hardly some misbegotten fringe opinion ;)

Mya -- this is so true but having lived through Greg Berlanti's other movie "Broken Hearts Club" this is, at least, a step forward to being less internally homophobic. (I hated that movie at the time because the characters kept all but expressing their desire to be straight acting. Blech)

Alex D - i'm not sure you're remembering Wil & Grace clearly. This movie is very specifically about a gay kid falling in love with another gay kid and the audience gets to cheer on their romance. We've just *barely* started to get that on television (One Day at a Time, Glee, The Real O'Neals) and it took until the 21st century to get there and even then it's not usually the central story. Wil & Grace was so so so nervous, despite being a huge hit and on every week, about showing affection between men let alone falling in love. But it was also about adults in NYC. This is about a gay teenager in Georgia. This movie, whether any particular viewer finds it good, bad or somewhere inbetween, is a subversive step forward into what everyone claims they want: more diverse stories about the human experience. It's subversive because it's taking place within the most heternormative movie genre that exists: the romantic comedy. and it's about a gay teenage romance for crying out loud. How many mainstream movies do gay teenagers have about their experiences? None unless they are willing to think of themselves as a supporting character in some straight person's story.

Gay kids really ought to be able to have their own stories foregrounded on screen. No one movie can speak for everyone but you gotta start somewhere! I'm a bit confused about the discussion about tropes we've exhausted because this is literally the first movie of its kind!

March 18, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@NATHANIEL If you see my original post, I don't diagree with you. I value that a movie like this exists and what it will mean for thousands of gay kids that will see it. I also mentioned how if I had seen something like this when I was 15 it would've meant a great deal to me.

My criticisms aren't that the movie is horrid representation, but that I see muted criticisms of the shortcomings (which it definitely has) of it because it is the first of its kind. We *do* have to start somewhere but we can also demand improvement. It's not a zero sum game. We can acknowledge and appreciate the value of a movie like this while also pointing out how it fails its younger audiences in various regards. My main point was how it still showcases gay men only under a certain light that is *very* palatable. And of course I'm not asking it covers everyone's experiences, I'm asking for it to do a bit more work when in the same movie it's using a traditionally feminine character as a punchline. Something we've seen so many other times. Gay media and representations should already be doing better than this!

I mean, this is a movie that has multiple scenes where the main character goes "yeah I'm gay but not thaaaat gay or that kind of gay." There's an obvious theme of self-acceptance that I think is very valuable, but I wish the movie didn't feel the need to adhere to certain troublesome ideas within the LGBTQ+ community to do so. It's got a message of self-worth that is great but only under a certain filter. After everything Simon continues to be what everyone thinks most gay people are or if not, "should" be.

All I'm saying is yes, this movie is cute and important and valuable. But hopefully we go from there, and years from now we also have movies where gay kids get a message that being gay and feminine is good, for example. Something this one doesn't.

That's just one of the issues I found with the movie, therefore why I'm sticking to the feminine part for this conversation, but there's multiple of these throughout.

March 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

Explaining how you can enjoy vanilla is a prefect way of describing this movie. It really is endearing despite its flaws - bland lead character, strange editing (he comes out to his parents but they don't talk to him about it until DAYS later?), etc. In some ways it felt like a shinier John Hughes movie.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Love, Simon looks to be pretty whitebread & well-intentioned and realistically, that is where you have to start with mainstream entertainment in this culture. That's just the way it is. I'm really glad the movie is out there, getting things started. My husband & I hope to see it sometime this week. I don't expect it to be anything more than pleasant, but its existence is a big deal.

BTW, Call Me By Your Name is indeed a wonderful movie, beautifully wrought, and acted. Can't wait to see it again.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Great piece Nathaniel.

Love, Simon's $11.5m opening weekend audience was 58% female, 59% under 25. Nic Robinson must be the vanilla gay best friend they were looking for.

After several months of Oscar campaigning CMBYN is only now at $17.5m. Some palates weren't ready for peach-flavored jizz.

Changing topics...

When I was in high school there were lots of 'not-straight-acting' gays on television and film, and they were like most of the gay guys who were out at school. It was the guys who didn't see themselves portrayed anywhere on screen who more often didn't come out... likely a combination of being able to 'pass' and not identifying with what they saw.

Greg Berlanti's husband Robbie Rogers didn't come out till he was almost 26.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdavidm

Lovely review, as always

I would have to agree with AlexD, as I feel a lot of their points are valid. I think Love, Simon is interesting in the sense that watching it made me realize how so much gay mainstream culture can come across as sort of an apology to straight folks. The "I'm not that gay" moments in the film may be throwaway comments, but it does imply that being "that gay" is somehow wrong and undesirable. Too often, when we are seeking acceptance, we veer too far towards assimilation and conciliatory gestures.

However, I'm happy this movie exists, for all its flaws. I will gladly throw money at it, appreciate it, and hope that the subsequent LGBTQ teen films will improve on it.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

AlexD, I see what you're saying. That moment of "maybe not THAT gay..." is definitely a curious moment. But, credit where credit is due, the film also features a Black femme presenting queer character who is not simply a pithy punchline character and is actually allowed to have moments of true human characterization. That felt so cool to me.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

I am enjoying this debate, but didn't have any problem with this issue when watching the movie. The things that Simon says about himself are the things we've all said to ourselves. He's testing the waters. He doesn't really know what gay means beyond the physical attraction.

And I too was pleased that the other gay kid in school was not presented as a punchline or a joke but given value by Simon and the film creators.

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

Was anyone else bothered that the big finale asks someone to come out in a very public way, and for the entire movie it really did not seem he was ready to?

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAK

Yes of course it looks like a bland John Hughes comedy that is the point of the movie. And yes I loved "Call Me By Your Name" which should have won the Oscar for best picture. Yes Riley I thought it was so wonderful I paid to see it twice. There is no such thing as the perfect representation of the gay experience- that's why we have different types of film- I'm for queer cinema like Greg Araki to the operatic sexuality of "Querelle".

March 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

There is essentially no way to possibly please everyone with a movie like this, or to do all of the things people want it to do (because all of those things collectively, when added together, contradict each other).

I sometimes feel for movies with LGBTQ+ themes having an uphill battle even within the community, because of the weight of expectation put upon them. Imagine if every straight person going to see What.Ever.Blockbuster walked in with a need to see themselves represented. Knowing that their experience is entirely different to the straight person sitting in the row behind them, and the other straight person sat next to them, etc.

I'm delighted this film exists at all. Is a heteronormative angle making it more palatable for mainstream audiences? I couldn't care less. If that approach helps give context to even one kid coming out to their parents, or crucially for their parents to process things with a more open heart then who cares? Did audiences have a problem falling in love with Pretty Woman because it made straight prostitution more palatable? Not in the slightest. Is the rich suburban middle class representation a problem? Only if it was in Mean Girls.

Here's a movie about a gay kid falling in love, released by a studio. It's not about every gay kid. But it's about this one. And this one has financial, familial and aesthetic privilege. Kind of like those kids in almost all of your favourite teen movies. In not trying to be EVERYTHING the world needs right now (an impossible task), it may end up being precisely what the world needs right now. Let's support it and get that message back to producers and financiers.

March 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK

I'm really disappointed by the predictability of the movie. I think it completely ruins all gay credibility that it thinks its building. The movie promulgates the gay agenda by having the main character be attractive, if made to look unassuming. There's even a sequence in the film where Simon balks at "socially" unattractive" classmates that sport Game of Thrones t-shirts. And, of course, the love interest is handsome in a socially acceptable way.

Yes, every movie in the world must deal with having aesthetically pleasing actors and characters. Yes, even the most anti-gay film would promote this same thinking.

BUT, there is a HUGE problem in the gay community that a man isn't acceptable if he isn't attractive. So, maybe, perhaps in the near future, it would be okay for a movie to accept a gay character who was overweight or had severe acne .

Everything abot the gay community promotes the need for beauty over everything else. Why have a college degree if you aren't attractive?

I couldn't even enjoy the movie because it was one big stereotype.

We deserve better.

March 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMattFFF

I'm not white, I'm way past my teenage years, I did not grow up in an uber-progressive community like Simon, and my parents did not telegraph in neon lights that they would be OK with my coming out. Yet I found myself relating SO STRONGLY to this film.

SLIGHT SPOILERS BELOW

I think there's a real phenomenon whereby those of us who are gay adults now (and thus lived through and remember a time when NONE OF THIS was considered mainstream or even tolerated, a time that was really not that long ago) long to live vicariously through gay teens who have access to that kind of tolerance and communal acceptance now. Just like I often felt while watching Klaine on Glee, I felt a mix of exhilaration and envy while watching Love Simon. I both resented my own teenage years and still felt like the movie was giving me a teenage experience to compensate for the beautiful memories I don't have. I don't know if others here have felt the same way (Richard Lawson has hinted at this too so I hazard to guess this feeling is shared by many others too) but the feeling was so strong while watching it. It was like the movie opened a portal in time, connecting adult me to teenage me and soothing some past trauma.

And despite the specificity of Simon's race and community, there are universal themes that really resonated with me. The sense of complete loneliness when he's in the closet is something most LGBT people have experienced and even though it seems silly that teenagers now would communicate over email, it was something I could relate to since I came of age at a time when the internet was exploding and the online world connected me to people and ideas that made me feel less lonely. When Simon received the dreaded mailer-daemon reply and realizes that he may have lost his connection with Blue forever, I really felt his sadness and despair (Nick Robinson's otherwise deadpan face was terrific here) because I've been there one way or another and I imagine many LGBT people have too. That feeling that you lost your one connection to your true self and to someone else and you can't even share that pain with your family and friends. And without revealing too much about myself, I will also say that when Simon is outed in the worst way possible, I could also relate to it. I too did not get to choose when to tell my family I was gay; I was also robbed of that moment in a similarly humiliating way.

So yes, this film wrecked me in ways I wasn't expecting and if it could do that for me, a well-adjusted (I think?) gay adult now, I imagine it also can for gay teenagers who are still discovering themselves and especially gay teenagers in places where they cannot be themselves. It's so easy to dismiss films like Love Simon now, but I think films like this are as important (and resonant) as films like Call me By Your Name (which I loved, but I didn't relate to it in the same way. Ironically CMBYN feels more like a lovely fantasy to me than Love Simon despite the fact that the former film aims for verisimilitude).

Basically, I LOVED this film and it makes me want more like it.

PS: The interracial romance was also relevant to my experience and how often do we see THAT in gay love onscreen?

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

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