Vanilla Nice: A Review of Love, Simon
Ok, it’s Let’s Jog Your Memory-time! Name me a major Hollywood studio teenage rom-com, coming of age film that’s also about coming out? You can rack your LGBT(i)Q’s on this one, and am pretty certain you still won’t come up with a title. All these youth-oriented major studio productions might have had a gay character as the hero or heroine’s best friend, or as the scene-stealing stylist/classmate or adviser on love; but not as the main protagonist/title character. And that’s why for merely existing, Love, Simon, is a film I salute in the name of diversity and openness.
Seventeen year old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) opens the film narrating that ‘I’m just like you’. He lives in the suburbs, with charming, liberal parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a quirky younger sister; and hangs out with High School friends who look like they came out of central casting - into iced coffees, school theatre, and good grades. There’s just one blip on the horizon, Simon is gay, but hasn’t come out, sharing his secret online with a classmate who signs as Blue and has the same problem as Simon (online, Simon is Jacques). What follows is episode after vignette of how Simon agonises over coming out, whether his communication with Blue will be exposed and pre-empt his doing it on his own terms, and who is Blue.
On the surface, it may not seem like much to hinge a film on; but the screenplay delivers in an engaging way. Sure, there is a Vanilla, white bread PG-approach to the treatment - no Grindr or sexting. Instead, we get a whole lot of talking about feelings, about misunderstandings, and about friendships standing the test of these seismic gender identity decisions. And the storyline knows how to bring in sidebars that hold us in relative suspense - none better than our guessing the identity of Blue.
What I was really pleased with was the audience reaction the night I watched, hoping this will be how regular audiences will similarly accept the film’s premise. Like a regular teenage rom-com, the audience broke into cheers and applause, the kilig factor strong, despite the fact that our hero happened to be gay. This sort of acceptance was encouraging, and made Simon’s ‘I’m just like you’ ring true.
Back in the 1980’s, the late writer/director John Hughes basically rewrote these teenage films with such gems as 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink; and I’d like to think Love, Simon’s Director Greg Berlanti (he’s been involved with Dawson’s Creek, Supergirl, and Riverdale) has mastered his John Hughes lessons, and given us his best 2018 version.
Photos from lovesimontickets.com