I'm a sucker for a teen, coming-of-age story. It's perhaps the most relatable storyline in film seeing that at one point in time, we all came-of-age. Yes, we might fall in love, we will most definitely experience loss, but all of us have gone or are going through the struggle of coming into our own. Choosing to be the person you're meant to be, shouting it from the rooftops that (à la Gaga) you were born this way. Whether it be sexual orientation, gender identification, grandiose dreams, unrequited love, or purely navigating the terrifying transition from child to adult, becoming who you truly are is a scary and miraculous thing.
As a frequent reader of teen fiction, there is something that authors capture about the teen experience that deeply resonates with readers. I think maybe following these characters going through issues that we all struggle with and coming out the other end stronger and happier gives us hope. Hope that no matter what crazy scenarios our minds can create, everything will turn out okay.
I picked up "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" one day when it was on sale at Target, then when news came round that a film adaptation was happening, I put it at the top of my to-read list. As the world went up in flames of excitement, just how important this movie was going to be phased. I think, all of us. Just a few days ago I was scrolling through my Instagram and Mädchen Amick (Shelly Johnson from Twin Peaks, Alice Cooper from Riverdale, or my personal favorite Aunt Wendy from Witches of Eastwick) posted that Love, Simon was the first studio-made film to feature an openly gay protagonist. Take a minute to let that sink in.
Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson) is your typical good-looking, somewhat popular high school student. As he lets us know more than once, he likes his family and has lots of fun with his friends. But he has one big secret...he can't dance. Just kidding (but actually a very unfortunate dream sequence showcases Robinson's lack of dance ability), Simon is gay.
While it would have been nice and even more impactful if the first ever gay protagonist in a studio film was played by an actual openly gay actor, Nick Robinson carries the responsibility well. Straying from his "too cool" persona in DMAA nominated Jurassic World, and pulling from his much more likable roots on Melissa & Joey, Robinson invites you in as a friend into the depth of Simon's story. Some serious acting chops are present during the more emotional scenes and throughout the moments of nuance where even without his voice-over, you easily follow Simon's struggles. Kudos must be given for Robinson not sticking out like a straight needle in a gay haystack, playing Simon as just a person, not a stereotype. I'm sure Love, Simon will be to Robinson as DMAA winning The Fault in Our Stars was to DMAA nominee Ansel Elgort, transforming his career into a household name.
Through a school blog, Nick starts emailing with another gay kid at school who also isn't out yet nicknamed "Blue". But when the hilariously uncool Mr. Worth (played by Tony Hale) distracts Simon from logging off his account on the library computer, unapologetically-himself Martin (played by Logan Miller) screenshots the emails to use as leverage in order to blackmail Simon into helping him get with Simon's friend Abby (played by Alexandra Shipp). As Simon and Blue get closer via email, they both develop feelings for each other and find courage in each other to come out to some of the people in their lives.
At the Homecoming game, two failed guesses of Blue's identity later, Simon is done with helping Martin and tells him to do whatever he wants, resulting in an extremely embarrassing declaration of Martin's feelings for the clearly not interested Abby. In a fit of rage, Martin posts Simon's emails on the school blog, outing him to the entire school, causing Blue to back out of their emails and forcing him to come out to his family.
With unfortunate timing on the screenplay's end, Simon's best friends get mad at him after they return from Christmas break; Nick (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby for finding out Simon was keeping them from dating because of Martin's blackmailing scheme and Leah (played by Katherine Langford) for Simon trying to pawn her off on Nick and missing all the clues. Coming to terms with being out, mending communication with his parents, dealing with his friend's ditching him and attempting to get over/identify Blue, Simon has to find a way to, for the first time, be the real Simon.
Now I don't typically like to compare adaptations in my reviews, as I like to critique solely what was presented, and although a significant amount was omitted and changed from the novel, there were two parts that severely affected the movie for me as a fan of the book. First, as I stated above, the unfortunate timing of Simon losing his friends. Moving this up to the first time Simon sees his friends after being outed resonates as anger about him being gay. Even it is other reasons his friends get mad at him, timing is everything, and placing a monumental event like this directly after a life-altering moment is in bad taste. If they were worried about run time, they could have sped up the entire opening of the film, which seemed not quite sure how they wanted to set everything up.
Second, the presentation of Blue. I won't say too much in order to not give anything away, but while the filmmakers deserve an round of applause for creativity, the technique they used to mask Blue's identity diminishes the final reveal compared to the book which unless you're really smart (like me) is a real true surprise.
The screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker is as fun and touching as one could hope a teen movie could be. Matched with the effortless direction by Greg Berlanti, no movie in recent memory is quite as refreshing with what it portrays. An LGTB+ movie that doesn't involve anyone dying or being rejected by their loved ones, but rather a film that shows the audiences what good can come from having the courage to be yourself. Plus with DMAA nominee Rob Simonsen's convivial, 80's teen movie inspired score, you can't help but feel good.
The ensemble of young actors amiably helps carry the movie with buoyancy, but when it comes to individual performances, the adults take the prize. Tony Hale brings the laughs, per usual, with his "trying to be hip" personality, but when it comes to comedy, no one holds a candle to Natasha Rothwell as the fantastically sassy drama teacher Ms. Albright. Rothwell steals every scene she is in with her backhanded vibrato and fierce diligence against bullying, making everyone wish they were lucky enough to have a teacher like her on your side.
DMAA nominee Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel have charismatic chemistry as Emily and Jack Spier, but Duhamel's "cool dad" persona, mixed with a surprisingly sensitive performance packs a winning emotional punch. And while her part is small, Talitha Eliana Bateman must be mentioned, as this past year of roles has really put her on my radar as an exciting up-and-comer.
Love, Simon will put a smile on your face, break your heart, then mend it back together all within 110 minutes. It is about time for a story like this to be told, and all involved should be proud of the work they've done.
*Love, Simon comes out in theaters March 16th, 2018*
Talitha Eliana Bateman
Jennifer Garner (DMAA nominee)
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
Marty Bowen (DMAA winner)
Wyck Godfrey (DMAA winner)