The first line heard in Love, Simon is "I'm just like you," and, I would argue, that is a misstep. Granted, I'm a middle-aged gay man living in a world contextualized in a far different way than can safely be assumed of any of the young-adult audience this movie is clearly aimed at -- kids who, in all likelihood, don't even realize how radically different the world really is for them. Part of that extraordinary difference is the fact that, although this is a story about a gay teenager struggling with the coming-out process, that target audience includes young adults both gay and straight.
Should I say that my review is aimed more at people at minimum in their thirties, then? It may be a little unorthodox to refer to someone else's review in my own, but Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson wrote a great one, which I related to significantly -- much more so, as it happens, than I did to the movie itself. And yet, I also did not feel quite as disconnected from the film as that review left me expecting I would. Either way, I do find myself wondering how different a review might be from, say, a teen critic writing for their high school newspaper.
The cynic in me, a part of myself I have spent years trying to loosen up, wants to dismiss Love, Simon as a simple, gay fantasy. My own experiences prompt me to ask: In what world would a gay teenager have such an understanding family and such an accepting close circle of friends? Well, here's a novel idea: maybe the real world? Nowhere in Love, Simon is it suggested that all gay kids in 2018 America have the same kind of experience -- only that we do finally live in a world where some of them do, and that does not make their stories any less worth telling. Also: it's not for nothing that the world see even clearly privileged kids with wonderful parents struggle with the uncertainty of coming out.
I don't really subscribe to the criticism that Simon is problematically presented as "straight acting" -- director Greg Berlanti gives no indication that we're to assume all gay kids are like Simon; only that they do exist. This movie still shows us the slightly more stereotypical sort in the one other openly gay kid at Simon's school (Clark Moore, surprisingly subtle, all things considered), who is more effeminate and always at the ready with one-liner retorts. He is also far more self-assured than Simon is. In any case, here we see both ends of the spectrum.
Still, my opening statement still stands: Simon immediately telling us "I'm just like you" serves only to muddle all these points. The set-up is by far the most contrive part of Love, Simon, and comparisons of his family's home to the upper-middle-class home sets of Nancy Meyers movies are apt. I heard that phrase "I'm just like you" and immediately thought, Uh, no you're not. And here my response is quite realistically similar even to that of many kids a third my age -- plenty of kids grow up in families poor enough that their economic problems far overshadow social anxieties, or in families that closer resemble that of the TV show Roseanne (or, to update that to the 21st century, One Day at a Time) than that of Simon.
Simon's little sister (Talitha Bateman, just as adorable as this movie asks for) is an aspiring chef, regularly cooking elaborate meals for the entire family. This is just the most obvious of several things about Simon's family which, if not entirely ringing false, comes across as at least slightly off from realistic.
And a lot of this set-up in the beginning is presented through countless awkward interactions. I don't do awkward very well: for about the first half-hour, I was squirming in my seat and averting my eyes from the screen more than I do at horror movies.
And then: somehow, Love, Simon coalesces, and proves surprisingly affecting. Suffice it to say that I was touched by it enough to cry several times, and if you're someone who would be interested in this movie to begin with, it would be wise to bring tissues. I may have wept at Simon's parents saying all the right things to him, but it was because I was so happy any gay kid could be so lucky -- it did not have the twinge of bittersweet wistfulness (something I feel regularly about the gay kids who have it better than I did) that I really expected.
Even better, Nick Robinson is well cast as the handsome semi-schlub who is the title character. The casting of his circle of friends barely falls short of feeling self-consciously diverse, but the performances all around make them feel authentic. I have been saying for decades that kids are smarter than adults tend to give them credit for, but I only just discovered they are also more sophisticated than I gave them credit for. The activist kids today working for gun control prove that much, if nothing else. None of that stuff comes into play in Love, Simon, but the real world currently shows us that, like the kids in this movie, kids are on average a lot more worldly than they used to be.
Nick Robinson is 22 years old, by the way -- and here he's playing 17. Funny, back in 2013's lovely The Kings of Summer he was eighteen, playing 15. I guess he's had a young face for a while. This kind of casting is often complained about, but it's only a problem if the actors' age is obvious. Robinson very much looks the part of a high schooler, and he plays one with true depth of understanding.
We are treated with Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon's doting parents devoid of judgment, and even if they are not likely "just like yours," they certainly fit the parts perfectly in Simon's world. The great thing about Love, Simon is how little noteworthy is its very existence -- another gay story devoid of what used to be obligatory tragedy. Boring is better than tragic, and although Simon's life is not all that exciting, his story is neither tragic or boring. Any story can be compelling if told the right way, and once both Simon and Love, Simon get past their awkward missteps, this story is as compelling as any -- perhaps for different reasons, but for audiences older and younger alike.