The first mainstream romantic comedy with a gay teen boy as its protagonist, Love, Simon is a well-made film with good intentions.
Working from Becky Albertalli’s cumbersomely-titled YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the latest from director Greg Berlanti (Life As We Know It) centers on high schooler Simon Spier (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) and his generally idyllic life.
Loving parents Emily (Jennifer Garner, solidifying her hold on upper/middle class mom roles) and Jack (Josh Duhamel) definitely would have voted for Obama a third time if they could, and aspiring chef little sister Nora (Talitha Bateman, Geostorm) is just as cheery.
A quasi-social butterfly, Simon also has a solid core friend group of Leah (Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why), Abby (Alexandra Shipp, X-Men: Apocalypse) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Spider-Man: Homecoming), and fantasy montage of all three individually coming out to their parents as straight is the highlight of the film.
Dulling this encouraging yet mostly bland backdrop is that Simon's secret true identity doesn’t seem to gnaw at him all that much. He’s confident his support system will accept his truth, but still hesitates to tell them.
Establishing Love, Simon’s world occupies less time than it sounds, and the plot gets rolling fairly soon after when an anonymous young man posts on the school’s gossip blog that he’s gay. Anxious to bond with someone like him — the feminine Ethan (Clark Moore) apparently (and problematically) doesn’t count — Simon creates a pseudonym email account and begins a correspondence with his closeted peer.
Thanks to the likable cast and the smart, active script by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, the sleuthing to solve Blue’s identity is consistently sweet and one always wants Simon to succeed. Also promising is that Simon doesn’t know what Blue looks like, but the strong interest in him from merely electronic communication indicates both value each other’s non-physical qualities.
Simon himself and his life are so well-rounded and positive, however, that the supplementary conflicts feel somewhat contrived. In a convenient lapse of focus, the erstwhile Mr. Careful accidentally leaves his email account open on a school library computer, annoying loudmouth Martin (Logan Miller) just happens to use the desktop after him, screenshots the exchanges with Blue and blackmails Simon into helping him get with Abby.
Subsequent hangouts with Martin are hit-or-miss and contribute to Love, Simon’s descent into twee crutches that also extend to the school faculty. Though kind of the point of his character, Tony Hale tries a little too hard to elicit laughs as vice principal Mr. Worth, while Natasha Rothwell bats around .500 as stressed out theater teacher Ms. Albright, whose live-wire ways connect with a force when they’re not inducing groans.
But as the film gets progressively cornier, it remains fairly irresistible on its way to an ending its characters deserve. There’s even a pretty powerful speech by Emily to Simon that may lack quite the punch of Michael Stuhlbarg’s in Call Me By Your Name, but nonetheless matches the ambition of the newer film's particular take on young love.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)