In a just world this would be just another teen romance but the world is wrong and the world is unfair. As things are, Love, Simon is a thoroughly likeable, if enormously twee, coming out and of age film that will resonate deeply with outsiders of all walks, genders, races and faiths of life.
‘I’m just like you.’ So says Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) as the film opens, to snapshots of his picture-perfect suburban family life, filled with great friends and treasured memories. Except, he has one ‘big ass secret’ that no one in the world knows; the one that has repressed him since a series of Daniel Radcliffe-themed dreams at the age of thirteen: Simon is gay. He’s not flamboyant, he’s not the guy in his year that’s ‘obsessed with Les Mis’ and he’s certainly not the diva in the tank top with the witty comebacks for the class bullies. He’s a teenager so, of course, an identify crisis is to be expected but what he can’t work out is why he won’t ‘come out of the closet’.
With a wisely shortened title, Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s book: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and has been brought to the screen by director Greg Berlanti, best known for his role in the production of umpteen superhero TV series. There is, by that virtue, something of a televisual nature to Berlanti’s latest transition to the big screen. With an asos model cast and jovial palette, this is an all-American, Disney Channel bundle of cheese that wears its heart on its sleeve and can boast an inspirational message to be proud of.
Along with best friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Ledeborg Jr.), Simon attends Creek School, under the watchful eye of Mr Worth (Tony Hale – hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow). When a fellow student reveals that he’s gay on social media site ‘Creek Secrets’ – under the pseudonym Blue – the whole school is abuzz with wondering who it might be. Simon, adopting his own pseudonym: Jacques, however reaches out via email and begins a long correspondence with Blue, in which they discuss their insecurities, hopes and confused sexual status. It’s not long before Simon falls for his new mystery pen-pal and becomes desperate to know who he is. Unfortunately, things go awry as dim dweeb Martin (Logan Miller) accidentally discovers the emails and blackmails Simon in a misguided attempt to ‘get with Abby’, resulting in a Midsummer Night’s Dream debacle of plot-crossed lovers.
Love, Simon should work well with its target audience. It’s easy on the eye and generally unchallenging – give or take the odd moment of cringeworthy humiliation – whilst also bubbling with a bon vivre of liberation. There’s a lovely relevance to it all (Blue realised he was gay watching Jon Snow on Game of Thrones) and touching insight into the struggles of coming to terms with who you are in a challenging world. It’s also sporadically very funny; in an inspired sequence Simon imagines a reversed world in which his friends are forced to ‘come out’ as straight to their traumatised parents.
On the other hand, you could never quite call the film real or wholly honest. For all its good nature and positivism, a glow subsumes all and it’s hard not to feel a touch distanced from Simon and his unfeasibly good-looking classmates with their 1940s propaganda-poster parents. Flashbacks see Simon given designer acne by the make-up department and it all winds up in a climax that doesn’t just get the ‘coasters rolling.
All that does work here is perfectly charming, not least thanks to a winning Robinson in the lead, and if this film inspires young audiences to talk and accept who they are then it has helped to make the world a kinder place.
Love, Simon is out in the UK on April 6.