Telling stories about gay people in movies has somewhat mirrored their advancement in the real world. For many years, appearances by gay characters were limited to either small, independent films or as the butt of jokes in mainstream films. Their stories have slowly but surely emerged from the shadows, seemingly punctuated by Moonlight winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2017.
However, as was the case with Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name, gay characters' love lives are still hidden in many movies. That’s also the case in Love, Simon, but in many significant ways, it’s one of the most freeing and romantic stories about a gay person yet.
Nick Robinson stars as Simon Spier, a high schooler who has not yet come out to his family or friends. When another student anonymously comes out on his school’s social network, Simon jumps at the chance to connect with someone familiar with his situation.
The two become pen pals over e-mail, correspondence that is intercepted by another classmate, Martin (Logan Miller). Martin uses this knowledge to try to get a date with Simon’s friend, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). Simon reluctantly agrees to help, but his actions have unintended consequences for himself, Abby, and the other two members of their friend quartet, Leah (Katharine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.).
In one way, the film remains a very conventional coming-out story, one full of angst even though Simon has a seemingly robust support system. However, despite the film being entirely about a boy coming to terms with his sexuality, it moves far beyond those constrictions. It treats Simon’s story and love life as plainly as any heterosexual one that’s come before it, and in doing so, it becomes transcendent.
This shouldn’t be any surprise, as the film is directed by Greg Berlanti, the man behind the DC Comics universe on TV, and written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who are writers and producers for NBC’s This is Us. Just as they’ve done in their acclaimed TV work, they have adapted Becky Albertalli’s book (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) into a film that is full of deserved emotion, one that has just as much universal appeal as the high school movies of John Hughes.
They are aided by winning performances across the board. Robinson, Langford, Shipp, and Lendeborg are the friend group you always wish you had, and their interactions pump the film full of life. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel make great parents for Simon, involved without being clingy, caring without being clichéd. Tony Hale is a little too goofy as the school’s vice principal, but he lands a few good lines.
Love, Simon manages to be a film that’s specific to the experience of gay people, but also one that’s achingly familiar to anyone who’s struggled through their teenage years. For this and many other reasons, it’s a movie that’s not to be missed.