Courtesy of FOX
From the very first shot, "Love, Simon" already feels like it's breaking new ground. Aside from the first mainstream studio film centered around a gay teenager, you also get the feeling that director Greg Berlanti is the right guy for this tough job.
Now, it's hard enough as is to make a genuine, warm hearted, high school movie in any age. Because each studio is trying to find the next John Hughes flick that will breakout, and almost always they fail. I don't think it's premature of me to state that Fox has a major hit on their hands. Not only does "Love, Simon" have the mass appeal to reach wide audiences, the movie is funny, touching and seemingly takes standard norms and redefines them for this generation of moviegoers.
Likely a reason that "Love, Simon" could be the breakout film of the year is due to Nick Robinson playing the titular character. Robinson, last seen in "Jurassic World," is an ideal choice. He makes every awkward interaction fit so perfectly within the film, and because he plays Simon in such an honest way, we laugh. A scene early on where Simon tries to flirt with the landscaper next door ("I like your boots") might've felt out of sync in any other movie, here you relate on an entirely different level. The film is based on a best selling novel, and while the film tackles subjects around the conformities of high school, and cliques, "Love, Simon" is also refreshing because of its subject matter. "I'm just like you" he tells us in an opening voiceover "except I have one big ass secret." Simon is coming to terms with his sexuality, which results in a remarkable coming of age story.
He also has some fairly cool friends that you actually want to spend time with. "13 Reasons Why" Katherine Langford is the token best friend Leah, while the rest of the squad includes soccer stud Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) and the new girl that just moved in, Abby (Alexandra Shipp) who Nick has a major crush on. These interweaving storylines hardly ever confiscate the limelight from Simon, except for a pesky weasel named Martin (Logan Miller) one of the problematic issues that I had with the film. But the main thread takes flight, when Simon logs onto the school's "Wikileaks" like chat board and discovers there's another kid dealing with the same dilemma about being gay.
They strike up a passionate email relationship, adapting the code names Blue and Jacques. The identity of Blue remains a secret, creating much speculation as to which character is the pen pal, with many build ups and disappointments along the way. Through all of this, we really do see the bubble that Simon is living in, and the everyday struggle he faces not accepting himself. While the dramatic irony can become a tad much (I rolled my eyes every time a character made some quip about kids being gay in front of Simon) the biggest head scratcher is why the filmmakers choose to invest so much time in a backstory about Martin. A flimsy and odd theatre kid that is somewhat funny, only to find himself blackmailing Simon for no other reason than to say: it's high school.
Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner add weight to their roles of Simon's loving and progressive parents. The family dynamic is strong enough in this movie that you might find yourself tearing up against your better judgement. But it helps that almost every character in this film is so likeable and has traits, you won't hate yourself for enjoying their company. Natasha Rothwell also steals BIG laughs as the high school drama teacher directing a show of "Cabaret" and Tony Hale as the Vice Principle that likes to go on "Tender" dates.
Robinson does a fine job at being sure not to play up Simon's sexuality to the point where it's overkill. You'll never watch this movie and think it's a story about a gay teenager, but a romantic teen comedy that isn't defined in any particular way. Berlanti makes sure to touch on a slew of milestones, like those conversations you'd have in the hallway in between class about random things, or even tapping into the sounds of this decade (the pop band Bleachers adds a nice blend to the movie's storytelling.)
Yet my favorite part about "Love, Simon" is how it makes you feel after leaving the theater. Even though the movie isn't perfect, it does a fantastic job at reminding us why we fall in love in the first place.