Kernel Rating (out of 5): (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. This teen drama focuses on a high school senior and his decision to come out to his friends and family. Some cursing and homophobic slurs, some bullying, some sexually themed humor and conversations, a party where teens drink to excess, some kissing and flirting.
‘Love, Simon’ is the kind of earnest coming-of-age story that focuses on a teen boy’s coming of age and his first love—he also just happens to be gay. The film is gentle and generous, with a captivating performance from Nick Robinson as the titular Simon.
By Roxana Hadadi
“I deserve a great love story,” says Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), in “Love, Simon,” and he’s right. Everyone does. No matter your gender, your age, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation. Everyone deserves to love and be loved. It’s a statement of fact that “Love, Simon” handles genuinely, emphatically, and compellingly in a film will mean so much to so many.
Based on the YA novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, the film is the first studio picture to focus on a gay teen romance, and director Greg Berlanti—who worked extensively in teen TV like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Everwood,” “Arrow,” and “Supergirl”—was the right choice. He has a true understanding of how teens think and how they act, and he often lets the camera linger on Robinson’s face so we can observe the complexity of the emotions there: the fear when he thinks someone may know his secret, how he averts his eyes from his father when he makes corny, heteronormative sex jokes, the affection and curiosity that wash over his face as he reads another email from his online confidante.
Robinson has been lovable in many teen-focused films before this, in particular “The Kings of Summer” and last year’s “Everything, Everything,” and he is exceptional here. You’ll feel for him and hope for him, especially during the film’s final 15 minutes or so, which veer very closely to the seminal ‘90s romantic comedy “Never Been Kissed” and are just as charming.
“Love, Simon” is set during Simon’s senior year, as he and his friends await graduation: his best friend Leah (Katherine Langford), who shares many of his interests, including alternative rock like Radiohead and Elliott Smith; his close friend Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), who plays soccer on their school team; and newcomer Abby (Alexandra Shipp, of “X-Men: Apocalypse”), who recently moved to the Atlanta suburbs from Washington, D.C., after her parents’ divorce. Things are pretty normal, for better and for worse: their school has an overzealous vice principal who is well-meaning but too involved in everyone’s business; Nick has been crushing on Abby but doesn’t know how to approach her; and there are a few bullies who are casually cruel to the high school’s only openly gay student, Ethan (Clark Moore), who holds his own but is regularly taunted regardless.
Oh yeah, and Simon has a “huge secret”: He’s also gay, and hasn’t yet come out to his family or friends. But when he sees that a classmate of his has posted anonymously on an online message board that he is also gay, the two begin emailing, with Simon calling himself “Jacques” and his confidante being nicknamed “Blue.” They can share their experiences, talk about their fears and their hopes, and wonder how their family and friends will all react—and Simon begins questioning who Blue could be, analyzing little clues in their communications to figure out with whom he is falling in love.
But this is high school, and nothing is easy: not when a classmate finds out Simon’s secret and starts blackmailing him, not when Simon starts lying to his friends, and especially not when Simon’s relationship with his parents becomes particularly strained. What should Simon do? What about his great love story?
“Love, Simon” nicely reflects the world in which we live (racial and gender diversity in both Simon’s friend group and the school’s community overall) while still putting enjoyable spins on the trademarks of the teen movie genre (like a drunken Halloween party with ’90s karaoke, after which Simon responsibly walks home and still gets there before curfew). These are the clichés that come with every high school film, but “Love, Simon” updates them for our time while never veering into slapstick or stereotypes. The film insightfully navigates not only Simon’s journey and his consideration of how being out may alter his identity or presentation of himself, but also provides looks inside the lives of his friends, his openly gay classmate Ethan, and Blue, whose journey overlaps with Simon’s but is unique in its own ways. The realism with which it treats its protagonist, with his uneasy mix of unsureness and yearning, and his family and friends, with their varying reactions to Simon’s secret but their ultimate support and love for him, is the key to making “Love, Simon” relatable while still revelatory. It’s warm, funny, and open-hearted, and it’s a must-see for parents and teenagers alike.
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