Monday, March 19, 2018

Simon Says

Year: 2018
Director: Greg Berlanti
Cast: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

There was a time in my life when I would have welcomed a Love, Simon with open arms. As a gay teen, I devoured stuff like this. Only, the thing is, I never had a Love, Simon. I came out circa 2010, which doesn't seem that long ago, but in gay years, it feels like centuries. Sure, I was living in a world that had already given us Another Gay Movie (a remake of American Pie that's kind of awesome and whose title falsely posits that there are enough gay teen movies around that you could possibly be sick of them) and Were the World Mine (a glorious musical that retools A Midsummer Night's Dream).

We no longer live in a world starved for gay YA content, but Love, Simon is still the first studio film with a considerable budget to tell the story of a gay teen. That's incredible. Only, pretty much every gay high school movie necessarily deals with the age-old issue of Coming Out, and you know exactly what I don't need at my stage of life? 

Although, to be fair, Coming Out is at least third on the odious gay movie clich√© scale, behind AIDS and Let's Fix Some Straight People.

But whether or not I needed Love, Simon, the world deserves Love, Simon, flaws and all. We need to allow gay movies to be just as mediocre as every other movie, because how else will we achieve true equality? So let's not get mad, let's get cracking with that plot summary.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a regular average teen, just like you. Assuming that you are an affluent white person in a nuclear family with 2.5 kids and a gross income that's literally gross because you're rich enough to afford a nauseatingly oversized McMansion. Only he has a Big-Ass Secret! You guys, he's gay! (The fact that the opening monologue to this effect assumes that the audience is entirely straight is either an oversight or a reassuring sign that we're living in a post-homophobia world)

When a classmate of his - known only as Blue - reveals that he's in the closet on an anonymous secret-sharing web site, Simon contacts him under the pseudonym Jacques (inspired by a photo of a trip to France with his parents, just like every average family has). While he gets close to Blue via email and attempts to find out his true identity, he is being blackmailed by theater geek Martin (Logan Miller), who screenshotted his emails and is using them as leverage to get inside information on Simon's hot friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp).

He wants to come out, and he finds courage in Blue's emails, but he's worried about the effect it will have on his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and his best friends (Katherine Langford and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).

Pictured, from left to right: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jurassic World, X-Men: Apocalypse, and 13 Reasons Why. These teens are doing just fine.

Honestly, Love, Simon is more than OK. It's... fine. Look, it's gentle and charming, and the fact that you won't be rolling in the aisles is mostly made up for with the warm-blanket atmosphere that permeates the whole thing. And Nick Robinson is game for the kind of low key character-based humor the movie is working with (the script is from the co-showrunners of This Is Us, who aren't exactly the second coming of Charlie Chaplin). The only people who really runs away with the humor here are the outspoken drama teacher played by Insecure's Natasha Rothwell, and maybe Tony Hale as the oversharing vice principal, though it would be nice if they hadn't clearly shoehorned him into random scenes in scenes so visibly nabbed in reshoots that you can taste the greenscreen.

What Love, Simon does get almost exactly right is the way emotions in high school play out, with all the big, stupid decision-making that that entails. These characters make fools of themselves in public about every twenty minutes, and their sloppy, overheated approaches to romance make you feel right at home. And anyone who has distractedly drifted through their daily routine while anxiously waiting for their phone to buzz with a message from a particular sweetheart will relate to Simon's achey, breaky hormones.

The film is also visually kinetic enough to keep the teen brain occupied, especially during the scenes where Simon imagines what Blue is doing, pasting on the face of whatever classmate he's hypothesizing his pen pal to be at that moment. Love, Simon shines the most when it's a romantic mystery, which it is for a good three-fifths of the time.

The question being who let this potential Blue get those highlights.

And there's one element I unequivocally love, which uses a repeat shot of Simon ordering coffee to show how even the tiniest details of his routine change with every decision he makes.

Unfortunately, those other two-fifths are Coming Out porn to the highest degree. I speak from experience when I say that I know full well that having liberal parents doesn't make the process any easier internally, but Love, Simon exists in a world where the stakes are well and truly null. What it gets right about the coming out process (the way the school will go ahead and assume you're dating the only other out gay kid in school - in my case, it's because I was, but whatever; the way it forces your heterosexual exes into a period of intense self-examination; the way you turn to the Internet for advice on how to live the Gay Lifestyle) is overshadowed by the toothless barrage of hyperbolically supportive conversations that form pretty much the entire final half hour of this movie.

There is an awkward Christmas scene that captures a family interaction in one perfect little crystal, but mostly Love, Simon ignores those feelings (and the repercussions of Simon's actions, especially as it relates to his hideously precocious younger sister) in favor of yet another tearful Oscar reel moment. Although, I will give credit to Jennifer Garner for selling the hell out of her Call Me By Your Name soliloquy in the third act.

Nothing but respect for MY Michael Stuhlbarg

There are a thousand teens out there right now who desperately need this movie, and I'm so glad they have it. But the parts that fail to speak to me aren't quite redeemed by what's ultimately a fun bit of fluff that isn't worth getting your panties in a knot over. There's no reason for an adult to watch it, other than to give that box office a necessary boost in hopes that they'll keep making these things and maybe strike gold at some point in the future.

TL;DR: Love, Simon is a charming little wish-fulfillment trifle.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1155

2 comments:

  1. "the way it forces your heterosexual exes into a period of intense self-examination"

    Yeah, MEREDITH. Wait, what were we talking about again?

    Anyway, I bet I'd like it more than Call Me By Your Name, though I doubt the other male lead is any kind of Armie Hammer. He's so aspirational.

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    1. Though, to be fair, my ex has continued to make a habit of dating gay dudes, so maybe she just knows what she likes.

      And no, of course there's no Armie Hammer in this movie. There's hardly another male that could be called a "lead," considering that his romantic partner is played by an ensemble and/or a series of emails.

      But now that I'm thinking about it, Armie Hammer totally should have played the dad in this one. I'd have bought it.

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