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Love, Simon – Review

 
 
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Release Date: 16 March 2018 [USA]
 
Director: Greg Berlanti
 
Writer: Elizabeth Berger - Isaac Aptaker
 
Cast: Nick Robinson - Jennifer Garner - Josh Duhamel
 


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Posted March 26, 2018 by

 
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Love Simon Review:

Among the many laudable aspects of Greg Berlanti’s new romcom Love, Simon is this:  it defines the line between PG-13 and R ratings for teenage sex comedies in 2018. And it turns out that line is smack dab between the second and third verses of the Violent Femmes 1983 song “Add It Up.”  When the charming protagonist Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) gets drunk at a party and begins rocking out to some karaoke, that is one of the songs he sings. We hear the second verse, with the lyric “Why can’t I get just one screw, Why can’t I get just one screw, Believe me I’d know what to do, But something won’t let me make love to you.” It is lyrically appropriate, since Simon has come to this party in hopes of quenching an unrequited love with a mystery friend he knows only by the online name “Blue.” And, alas, as we might expect, his plans will be foiled.

The fact that he could sing “why can’t I get just one screw” in the PG-13 comedy is not exactly revolutionary, but it is a sign of change, because that lyric would not have been OK twenty years back. But had he sung the third verse – “Why can’t I get just one fuck…” I suspect the R-rated stamp would have come out.

The party scene in question comes just before the midpoint of act 2, and it culminates a section of the movie that is smart, funny, and very aware of its characters, subject, and milieu. The story is about to move into slightly darker territory, and it will take a few shortcuts to reach its resolutions, which results in a second half not quite as strong as the first. But even with that, Love, Simon remains an excellent foray into the world of teenage sexual anxiety. It is funnier and lighter that movies like It Felt Like Love and Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl, but don’t mistake that lightness for a lack of depth. It knows its subject matter very well.

That subject matter concerns sexual preference. Simon is smart, funny and gorgeous. He is a closeted gay teen who, despite very supportive friends and family, does not feel comfortable enough to come out to anyone. Blue is an anonymous teen at Simon’s school with the same secret and when they meet online, they help each other talk through their anxieties. And they begin to fall in love.

We get a lot of insight into Simon’s thoughts on his life through rather extensive voice over. Voice over can often feel intrusive and cheap, but the screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, from the novel by Becky Albertalli, is so smart and witty, and Robinson’s delivery so effortless, that it never becomes overbearing. And though the screenplay naturally focuses on Simon’s obsession over his own secret, it wisely extends his feelings of doubt and fear to his friends. When best friend Leah (Katherine Langford) confesses to Simon that she often feels like an outsider in her own life, we realize, even if Simon doesn’t, that he would be having anxieties regardless of what gender he lusted after. That is merely part of adolescence.

The first half of Love, Simon is packed with fast-paced, self-aware, snark that characterizes most first-rate teen comedies. It has plenty of marvelous touches, like a montage in which Simon imagines a world in which coming out as straight carried the same social stigma as coming out as gay, and a sweet little dance routine in which Simon imagines life at college in California as one continual gay chorus line. These flights Simon’s fantasy help give Love, Simon its buoyancy.

And in support of Robinson’s stellar lead, performances from the likes of Tony Hale as vice principal from the tradition of Jim Rash in Community and Andy Daly in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, the delightfully gawky Logan Miller, as the most obliviously pushy of friends, and the riotous Natasha Rothwell, a would-be diva drama teacher, ably fill in the rest of the story.

As Simon searches in vain for his Blue, he must go to extra lengths to keep his secret, and the movie does not shy away from taking him to some rather nasty places. Nor does it let him off the hook for the way in which he manipulates others for his own selfish reasons. In addition to its solid sense of humor, this is Love, Simon’s greatest asset. Simon, for all his fear and apparent helplessness, is actually a very potent character. And for all his likeable sweetness, he can be a pretty big asshole. Which essentially makes him no different from a great many kids his age.

If there is a weakness in Love, Simon, it is revealed toward the end. There is clearly a derivative aspect to the story. Leah’s midpoint scene with Simon echoes similar scenes from several movies – the one I first thought of was Four Weddings and a Funeral. And the third act is a bit too formulaic, basically cribbing from Never Been Kissed. Of course, the entire premise derives from Shop Around the Corner, or, if you prefer, You’ve Got Mail. But those are minor problems. It is virtually impossible to point to any recent movie that doesn’t have similar influences.

SPOILER ALERT – The deeper problem with Love, Simon is revealed in a mean prank played on Simon after the school discovers his true sexuality. A couple of disposable jerks attempt to humiliate Simon through a gross gesture performed in the school lunchroom. After a few unpleasant moments, Rothwell’s drama teacher crushes the morons and Simon is showered with support from the other students. This is far too neat a wrap-up for all of Simon’s anxieties in a movie that has been so smart about his situation. Because though stunts like this do happen, they are the ones that are instantly snuffed out. It is the threatening note left in the locker, the casual bullying in the restroom, the public humiliation from anonymous culprits, that pose the greatest danger to kids like Simon. The cafeteria prank is far too easy to defeat.

After some awkwardness, all of Simon’s friends and family accept him in “it’s no big deal” fashion. Though no response is as perfect as the one from Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name, the reaction from virtually everyone leaves the impression that Simon was genuinely worried about nothing. Which may well be the point Love, Simon is trying to make.

And it is a valid, worthwhile point to make. Though perhaps not quite as honest as the thing that Simon, as well as most of his friends, are really wondering about. Which, as the Violent Femmes might put it, “why can’t I get just one fuck?”

 

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