It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a movie about high schoolers. I mean, a proper high school dramedy – I left that sort of film behind when I graduated myself, finding not much to draw me to the tropey, overdone likes of Superbad and Easy A. There’s nothing wrong with them, per se, but I’ve seen it all. As long as we’re talking about movies about straight kids, of course.
Love, Simon, directed by Greg Berlanti (of my beloved Riverdale fame), seeks to change that. Based on the novel by Becky Albertalli, what drew me to the film initially was that it wasn’t yet another miserable piece of misery porn where the gay kid would inevitably end up jumping off a roof before the end credits – instead, Love, Simon shot for something that falls more neatly in with the bittersweet but ultimately optimistic movies that make up the high school genre, and I was here for it.
And it doesn’t just deliver on that – Love, Simon is for sure one of the finer pieces of high school fiction to come out of the film industry in a while. There’s a warmth to it that runs down right to it’s core, enough detail in Simon’s picture-perfect family to keep them from reading as too bland, enough bite to the soft-indie soundtrack to make it memorable, enough turmoil to make that ending feel earned. It’s biggest strength is it’s cast, with a standout Nick Robinson as Simon bringing enough warmth and personality to his performance to keep our lead from feeling like nothing but an Issues Cipher, and Berlanti’s flights of camp fancy (including a delicious musical sequence that was for sure put in there just for me) keep things from feeling too generic. You can set your watch by some of the conflicts and their resolutions, but brutally, that’s not far from how real teenage life functions so I can’t exactly hold that against it (or maybe I’m just getting old and cynical).
It’s not that Love, Simon is the best film ever made. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone claiming that – much as it has it’s charm, it still falls into some predictable romantic-comedy high school tropes, and sunny performances and quirky asides can’t lift to masterpiece level. But it’s what it represents that does it for me. Here is a coming-of-age comedy, about sexual and romantic exploration and acceptance, that deals with a gay kid. It’s not misery porn, it’s not high-art cinema; it’s a movie actually aimed at the teenagers it’s building this story around. Love, Simon isn’t the gay teen romance perfected – it’s proof that it can be done, can be done well, and that there’s an audience hungry for more stuff like it.
Is it realistic that Simon’s family and friends all swiftly come around to his coming out? Probably not. Is it cheesily romantic that he gets his guy in front of a cheering crowd? Of course. But Love, Simon isn’t trying to revolutionize storytelling here – it’s trying to revolutionize the notions of who these stories can be about. By producing a sweet romantic comedy about a gay teenager that offers just as much feel-good wish fulfillment as it’s straight counterparts, Love, Simon and it’s relative critical and commercial success opens doors for different kinds of stories about the LGBT community. And that can only be a good thing.
(header image courtesy of 20th Century Fox)
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By Louise MacGregor