Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker (Novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” – Becky Albertalli
Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Talitha Bateman, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Miles Heizer, Joey Pollari, Clark Moore, Drew Starkey
PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
As Call Me by Your Name was to 1980s gay coming of age stories, Love, Simon is to the 2010s. While the former was pure drama, the latter is a comedy with dramatic elements throughout.
Closeted gay High School senior Simon (Nick Robinson) begins corresponding with a fellow student who is in a similar predicament. We don’t find out who he is until the end of the film, but we see Simon slowly fall in love with someone he’s never met. Their struggles are the same.
When Simon inadvertently leaves his Gmail account open on a school computer, another student uses the information to blackmail Simon into helping him get with one of Simon’s friends. As this John Hughesian seriocomedy plays out, Simon digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole until his secret is revealed, which threatens to destroy his life, both at home and at school.
Robinson is terrific in his titular role. Struggling to navigate his mundane suburban life with a secret he feels so terrible that he dare not speak of it publicly. As the events of the film unfold, he becomes more comfortable in his own skin, Robinson giving the modestly confident, but also quietly insecure Simon a humanity that’s tough to convey to an audience that’s not entirely familiar with what he’s going through.
Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are solid as his successful and supportive parents. Garner even gets a monologue not terribly dissimilar from the one Michael Stuhlbarg got at the end of Call Me by Your Name. While Garner certainly doesn’t deliver the powerhouse performance stuhlbarg did in that one scene, her nurturing supportive performance is no less affecting. Duhamel plays Simon’s father with the sort of paternal stereotype one would expect, but manages to give him a little added depth when necessary.
Simon’s cadre of friends, including Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. are solid even if meagerly constructed. Shipp is given the meatiest of the roles and does well with it, though Langford’s subtlety of being in love with Simon is well handled. Lendeborg isn’t given much to do, but he does fine with what there is. Outside of the friend circle is Logan Miller’s exuberant drama geek Martin. While he has a single standout scene at a diner, the rest of his performance is a bit grating, even beyond what is expected of that character.
Among the supporting cast, Talitha Bateman as Simons’s sister is easily the strongest. In a scene shortly after Simon’s secret is revealed, she visits his bedroom to provide what comfort she can. Bateman takes all the kindness her brother has given her over the film and tries to act in the same capacity with him, not knowing precisely how to say it all. It’s a genuine and warm moment that resonates better than even Garner’s scene does.
Helping navigate the cold waters of being gay in a modern space is director Greg Berlanti (TV’s DC universe including Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl) who brings his own experiences to bear on a drama that benefits greatly from it. There’s a universality to this coming out story that transcends decade. The events depicted in the film, while decidedly light in tone, reflect the fears and struggles of life as a gay teenager. While the dangers of prior generations were significantly more threatening, the emotional frustration and trepidation behind them is not terribly dissimilar.
With Love, Sion, alongside Call Me by Your Name and Moonlight, we have entered an era where gay stories are given strength and clarity in an arena that has typically shunned them. Once resigned to the bargain bins of major metropolitan areas, films like these have shown us new sides to narratives that have gotten short shrift over the years and it’s gratifying to see them embraced by the public at large. While there is a great chasm still to be crossed in terms of representation, the increasing success is a positive and welcome improvement.
July 18, 2018