“I’m just like you.”
We all have secrets, some huge and some small, some relatively light and others incredibly dark. And if we hold on to them for too long they can become a character flaw that redefines our very being. Maybe you’re an addict of some kind, struggling to let go of the very thing that possesses you. Perhaps you’ve allowed a seemingly small lie to snowball into an uncontrolled avalanche. In the case of Love, Simon – an imperfect movie willing to flaunt its own weaknesses – the big reveal is that our young leading man is gay. What’s so beautiful about this film is how little ruckus it makes of this fact, and how it allows a kid to come out without having to amplify his truth with an airhorn. Through a personal journey of homosexuality, Love, Simon shares a more universal message than you might expect; that the struggle to accept oneself is innate, and that while our heads personalize the chords and the lyrics our own songs, it is our hearts which beat in tune to the very rhythm of life itself.
Introductions are important in movies. They shape a world, introduce new people, establish a tone. Love, Simon nails its opening, helping to normalize this hero before carefully questioning if he’s really all that different and showing us that he isn’t. When Simon (Nick Robinson) first graces the screen, it’s as one puzzle piece in what looks to be an idyllic life. Mom (Jennifer Garner) and Dad (Josh Duhamel) are genuinely great, loving, affectionate parents. Little Sis (Talitha Bateman) is more than tolerable even if some of her concoctions in the kitchen aren’t. Simon’s morning carpool with friends is enough to make you close your eyes and recall what it was like to finally have the freedom that came from a set of keys. Abby (Alexandra Shipp) is new to school and completes their circle. Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) stars on the soccer team. Leah (Katherine Langford) has been Simon’s co-pilot since Kindergarten. Everyone we meet seems to love Simon, but as his body language shows us, he’s yet to fall in love with himself.
After hearing about a recent post on an online reservoir sourcing the high school’s flooding gossip, Simon enters into a correspondence with someone harboring the same secret, exchanging anonymous emails. They confide, comfort, eventually even flirt. What should be the least cinematic part of the film – two people typing and talking through a screen – becomes the most ingenious aspect, allowing Simon’s imagination to alter his own reality. To imagine situations where a particular face is projected onto the suitor of his dreams, allowing Simon and those of us in the audience to play detective, guessing from the line-up of potential lovers who’s on the other end of an affectionate email chain. In Love, Simon, I found a great truth beating at its very core; we can learn to love any number of people on this Earth so long as we already love ourselves, and if the stars align, you should chart them and chase them and join together as a single constellation.
Where this movie stumbles – albeit very rarely but also massively – is with its unnatural dialogue, wasting time speaking nonsense instead of listening. Are we really supposed to believe that a quirky Vice Principal (Tony Hale) would discuss a Tinder date or his sex life with a student? That a theater teacher (Natasha Rothwell) would instigate the same off-limits discussion? Would a real kid jokingly rib his buddy with the line, “What are you, her barista?!?!” I don’t think any of the above can be answered with a straight-faced yes, and while these moments definitely destabilize the film’s foundation, it’s still the kind of movie deserving of a huge headline in the student paper, a round of applause at the pep rally, and a shout-out on the morning intercom. Love, Simon could have been a perfect film had it been workshopped harder; for this very reason, despite the parts that never work, it also feels all the more real for visualizing the disorder and the chaos of high school, the bruises and the cuts admired rather than covered up. Its secondary objective is to highlight the importance of community, and what better way to achieve that than to dig into our most formative years.
While the approach feels a bit slow and doesn’t quite execute all of its aerials, Love, Simon absolutely sticks its landing, beaming with pride and confidence as it finally embraces the schmatlz of its routine. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more ugliness and hostility, more drama and conflict, but that’s not a detractable grievance because this film is so damn positive and pure and accepting that it almost evolves into the kind of world we should aspire to become. I honestly can’t count how many times I’ve seen a story about high school, but I can say how many times I’ve seen a film like Love, Simon. In this instance – with a universal story this inclusive – one isn’t such a lonely number to bear after all. If anything, it’s a confident stepping stone thrown in the direction of what’s hopefully to come. I imagine that it has to feel impossible to come out of the closet. Thankfully Love, Simon doesn’t dress its wounds. Instead it celebrates them, sparks conversation, and inspires all of us to breathe a calm breath in order to take a confident step forward.
“You get to exhale now.”
Rating: 4 out of 5