Simon Spier is your standard, run of the mill, white upper-middle class high schooler. He has loving and supportive family and friends. He loves music and musical theater. He and his friends are in their school’s production of Cabaret, which is being directed by the drama teacher, Ms. Albright (played by a scene stealing Natasha Rothwell, who is unjustly not given enough screen time in this). Simon does have one big secret though. He’s gay.
Love, Simon is not a story about a young gay man struggling with his sexuality. Simon knows he’s gay, has known for years, and isn’t confused or ashamed of who he is. He’s simply afraid that his relationships with his family and friends might change if he tells his secret. Love, Simon also is not a story about a young gay man overcoming adversity and animosity due to his sexuality. There are no loud, Bible thumping, homophobic antagonists in this film. The homophobia in this film is much more subtle, much more natural, and thus, much more real. Simon’s father is your typical macho but goofy dad (played sincerely by Josh Duhamel), and he makes a few offhand comments about how “fruity” someone on television looks, and teases Simon (not in any malicious way) about which girls he likes. Once rumors start to fly around school about a closeted gay student, Simon’s friends start to speculate on who it might be, basing their predictions on who “looks” or “acts” gay. While seemingly harmless, this is the true face of homophobic ignorance today, and it’s a strong point of the movie that these are the roadblocks put in Simon’s way. Of course he would be uncomfortable coming out to his family and friends. They’ve shown their ignorance and may not be one hundred percent accepting of him, even though they all seem to be very progressive minded.
Simon is not a perfect person either though, when fellow drama student Martin (brought to life in a stunning love-to-hate-him performance by Logan Miller), discovers his secret, Martin blackmails Simon into helping him hook up with his friend Abby, or else he’ll out him to the entire school. Simon gives in and starts to mess with the relationships of his closest friends, which leads to conflict and heartbreak. While Simon’s dilemma is empathetic, he still makes the selfish choice. Does that make him a bad character? Of course not, it makes him flawed, which is a more three-dimensional and relatable character. Nick Robinson delivers an inspired performance, giving us soft, awkward vulnerability and a head full of daydreams with Simon, while also showing the self-assured, fun-seeking side of the character.
Simon feels like a real person, as does his group of friends. Each of them go through full arcs and are given much more to work with than your typical teenage rom-com friends, who usually fall into having one single character trait or just being a stereotype. Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Keiynan Lonsdale all deserve praise for their performances here. The quick and witty dialogue from the cast propels the movie forward at a steady pace, never once feeling too stagnant or too quick. This movie’s biggest strength is its heart and emotional moments, both of which are extremely genuine and impactful. There’s a conversation between Simon and his mother (Jennifer Garner actually trying again!) that is sure to bring a tear to anyone’s eye.
Love, Simon may not bring anything too new or challenging to the genre, but it doesn’t need to. This is the first film ever released by a major studio to focus on a gay teen romance, and the historical significance of that cannot be understated. The film hits a lot of familiar beats and the ending is a bit cheesy, sure, but does it need to be anything else? This is a film that many people wish they had when they were younger and that teenagers still need today. Simon’s plight is relatable to anyone. He is trying to figure out who he is, what kind of person he is, and his sexuality has little to do with that question. The message of this film is universal, and it should go down as one of the greats.
Love, Simon is your typical teenage romance, and that’s exactly what it needed to be.