'Love, Simon' Review: A Fairly Ordinary Teen Movie...and That's Why It's Wonderful

It's difficult not to describe Love, Simon in contradictory terms. To put it as simply as possible: it's extraordinary for just how ordinary it is. If one were to point out its faults, they would be the same as any other mainstream teen coming-of-age movie. Maybe it's a little glib, maybe it bucks realism for dramatic effect, maybe it doesn't really take any risks — isn't it more important that this movie is so profoundly normal when its star (by Hollywood's metrics) is so rare?

Simon (played by a quite charming Nick Robinson) is, in most respects, a paragon of normalcy. He has a perfectly happy family that adores him (his parents are Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner, for chrissakes), he has a close group of friends who carpool to school and drink a baffling amount of iced coffee, and he does extracurriculars. Oh, and he's gay. It's this last part, of course, that sets Love, Simon apart from the typical marquee offerings, especially those coming out of its parent company, 20th Century Fox. What makes this a coup is that the film, directed by Greg Berlanti, doesn't treat it as an oddity or aberration. It's not being gay that's worrying Simon; rather, it's the process of coming out.

The film, based on Becky Albertalli's novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, sees Simon going into his senior year of high school. When someone posts to the anonymous school message board that they're struggling with coming out of the closet, Simon sets up a dummy email account and quickly begins a correspondence. As they essentially become internet pen pals, Simon can't help but wonder exactly who it is that he's writing to, and if he's crazy for starting to form a crush on his mysterious conversation partner. And all of this rests on his shoulders on top of wondering how to come out to his family, his friends, and his school. As is natural in romantic comedies, it's not long before things go sideways.

Though Love, Simon is, for the most part, pretty cutesy, some of the storylines dip into some genuinely harrowing territory, mostly as Simon struggles with the fear of being outed against his will. It's a wresting of control that doesn't really have any equivalent in stories about straight teenagers. Nor is there any equivalent to Simon's mulling over "how" gay to be (which, frankly, brought to mind Antoni Porowski's speech in the new Netflix Queer Eye about dealing with expectations of being a certain way after coming out). And as such, Love, Simon feels all the more significant as a piece of mainstream entertainment.

It's buoyed by its cast, all of whom are beautiful and appealing in that CW-show kind of way. Robinson is great, as are Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Keiynan Lonsdale (who quite possibly shines the brightest despite having the least to do) as Simon's friends, though they're saddled with their own high school drama that plays out to varying effect. And as the bane of Simon's existence, Logan Miller basically hits a home run. He's pitch-perfect as a theatre kid, i.e. annoying and oblivious to the point that I almost had to watch the movie through my fingers each time he was on screen.

The film only hits low points when it comes to dialogue — which is clunky half of the time, likely a result of translating something from the page to the screen — and bringing the story to an end. It seems allergic to consequence, for lack of a better way of putting it. Crap may hit the fan, but not too much of it comes out the other side. I can't imagine half of what happens in Love, Simon resolving so simply, though I'll give props to any teenagers who are able to get over their emotional traumas (and forget school drama) so quickly.

Love, Simon is ultimately a bit shallow as an exploration of teen angst, specifically with regards to coming out, but it's nice to know that perfectly average romcoms are now fertile territory for stories about gay characters, too. Hopefully, that means that other genres won't be far behind. The film feels akin to Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time in that respect, in that they're perfectly fine movies that are remarkable for being fine with their particular leads. Granted, Love, Simon comes together a little better, but I've found myself thinking of both films in the days since seeing them in a somewhat emotional state. How nice it is to see that representation is presented as so normal.

It's hard not to root for Simon. It's hard not to hope that things will work out with his mystery crush, that there'll be some romantic gesture to cap it all off. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that, though there are some twists and turns, Love, Simon delivers the feel-good goods. It's a little dramatic, sure, but it's just the kind of idealized high school experience that most (if not all) of us will wish we'd had. Hopefully, the actual teenagers going to see this film will feel the same way.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10