If only more mainstream films could bestow the grace upon its subject and citizens as new high school romantic comedy Love, Simon. From the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, the film’s titular senior (played by Nick Robinson) is sitting on a big gay secret, one that becomes quickly apparent to not be as dire to an outsider as it is to the introverted, sensitive Simon. He has liberal parents, open-hearted friends, and the school already has an out gay kid, for God’s sakes. A love story shouldn’t be so hard to fathom, especially these days.
And all that changes when an anonymous student, dubbing himself Blue, takes to the school’s blind item blog with the cutting words “nobody knows I’m gay.” Simon reaches out under his own alias, creating an oasis of support and affection between the two young men with a safety net of unrevealed identities.
But what makes the film so particularly, crucially drawn is how Simon’s gay awareness is was brought on by a change in self-perception, and his death-clutch hold to make sure nothing in his life changes externally as it did internally when he realized his sexuality. Here the film shows how being a gay kid, even one who could safely exist openly, means life becomes a series of secrets and lies for the sake of mere survival. But director Greg Berlanti pivots from the self-hating of his gay The Broken Hearts Club for something demonstrably optimistic and self-love-affirming; Love, Simon doesn’t want to break your heart.
It’s a confectioner’s sugar that enhances the many other flavors it brings to the table, namely a stellar ensemble led by Robinson and Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. The film is squarely Simon’s story but includes observations and detail about the people in his world, ultimately making his journey to involve others in the full breadth of his life all the more impactful and richly moving. And that grace extends to how each of the characters are portrayed, as it achieves the rare feat of feeling authentic to the age of its characters without becoming overly precious or cut with the cynicism of later adulthood.
That lack of condescension, the complete warmth for Simon and his circle, make this film a meatier slice of high school storytelling. Despite its littered myopias on its own subject and its largely sanitized but not exactly prudish portraiture, the film has much to appreciate for what it does achieve.
What makes the film so special is how it’s loaded with micro treasures and tortures, equally specific in Simon’s joys as it is in the more acute moments of pain and disregard. There’s the discomfort of fatherly joshing, the varying degrees of pressure for which friend is told first in comparison to closeness, the assumption of romantic interest between two gay people in a sea of straights – but there’s also the unique textures to first love when that love was thought forbidden, impossible. The way the film keeps the audience guessing at Blue’s identity mirrors that of a young queer person looking for clues that someone, anyone might be like them – a verbal cue, an offhand gesture, a stare that lasts just a second too long. Love, Simon may not reflect every gay kid’s experience (nor should it need to), but it gets it right by exploring the finer points of an experience still only discussed in broader terms.