Everybody remembers their first high school love. It’s a monumental moment in a young person’s life and an experience that you never really forget. It prepares you for the emotional roller coaster that is life, all in one experience. You feel happiness, excitement, anxiety, concern, fear, love, lust, disappointment, joy and eventually heartbreak. It’s a crash course on emotions that you continually draw from as you grow up. This experience trains you on how to deal with these emotions, as you get older. It’s a universal experience that everyone can relate to. That’s why there are so many Young Adult movies, TV shows and books dedicated to this exact experience. Everyone wants to relive his or her first love. The problem is that it is so hard to replicate. The innocence of that moment is hard to retell. There is a tricky balance that you have to find between taking something like this too seriously and not serious enough. The story also has to be genuine and relatable to current teenagers while still maintaining a charm that an older audience can feel nostalgic about. Most YA stories struggle to do one of those things, much less all of them. Every few years, however, one of these movies is able to do it and when it does, it’s a beautiful thing to watch and experience. It usually leads to both box office and critical success. This year is one of those years and Love, Simon is the movie that got it right.
Love, Simon chronicles the senior year of Simon Spier, a self proclaimed normal kid just like any other. The story starts with an illustration of his normal life. He lives in an upper middle class suburb with his mom and dad that love each other. He has a sister with a passion for cooking and he totally supports that. He’s got a tightknit group of friends that ride to school every morning, drink a lot of coffee and do everything else that high school friends do. His school is also normal in every way that one could be, all the way down to the awkward Assistant Principal that tries way too hard. Everything about Simon Spier and his life appears to be “normal”, even the secret that he is keeping from everyone in his life. Love, Simon does a lot of things great and this setup is near the top. In a short amount of time you understand and even feel the normalcy that is Simon’s life. Including the fact that he is gay. It is presented as a secret but it is never presented as odd. We find out because he is staring out of his window at a guy that he finds attractive. His dad walks in and provides a bit of humor to the situation, but it’s not at the expense of Simon’s homosexuality. It’s an awkward father/son interaction; this is where the beauty of this movie lies. Simon immediately becomes relatable because that awkward interaction is one that everybody has had. Now everyone in the theater can relate to this gay teenager, regardless of their own sexuality and that is key to this movie’s success.
Another key to the success of Love, Simon is the screenplay that was beautifully written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker; adapted from Becky’s Albertalli’s novel, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”. It was sharp, relevant, heartfelt and very clever. It followed all of the right beats and it flowed seamlessly. The film took its time with Simon and his story, while never being boring. It knew when to turn and when to slow down, which leaves the viewer off balance but still very engaged. A very clever plot device aided all of this. Simon finds out that another student at his high school has the same secret as him. Simon reaches out to this student, known as Blue, via email. From here, the film takes on a bit of a You’ve Got Mail vibe. We are privy to the budding love of Simon and Blue via the emails that they share. The film takes great care to keep this in the forefronts of our minds. Every time Simon’s phone goes off, we are excited to see what is going to happen next. We share in Simon’s disappointment when it’s an email from someone else. It was a brilliant use of this plot device to build great amounts of tension and tell this story in a unique way.
Part of the way through, Love, Simon turns into a bit of a fun mystery. A good portion of the movie is spent dealing with the mystery surrounding Blue’s identity. This is another place where the film shines. The film presents a few people as possibilities and with each one the excitement rises. Urgency rises as well when the disappointment of each possible Blue is eliminated but is soon followed with the excitement of a new possibility. This works so well because you match the excitement that Simon has. This is how the movie connects the viewer to the characters and it is done wonderfully. By the time we get to the reveal, the tension is so high that you’re on the edge of your seat while Simon waits for Blue to show up at the Ferris wheel. This plays into the following emotions because the stakes of that final scene are so high and is shot so well that when Blue does finally show up it’s nearly impossible to not get emotional.
The emotional moments were another place where Love, Simon shined. This film deals with a pretty heavy topic, a teenager coming out to his friends and family, and if that is not dealt with properly the whole movie falls apart. That really isn’t a concern here because the film deals with the subject matter beautifully. It does a good job of setting up the stakes and letting the audience know just how important this is. This pays off in a major way when another student discovers Simon and Blue’s emails. The moment this happens is gut wrenching and the subsequent blackmail of Simon is disdainful. This all works because the stakes were set up well. We understand why Simon acts the way he does while he’s being blackmailed because we understand what his secret means to him. When his emails are leaked, his life falls apart piece by piece and it’s crushing to watch. We understand why he did what he did but it is also completely understandable that his friends would react to his decisions the way they did. Coming out is an important part in the life of a homosexual and this film did a great job of helping the audience understand just how important it is. You feel the pressure and intensity of the secret he’s keeping. You understand why he’s not saying anything to anyone and your heart breaks when his secret is revealed without his consent.
Love, Simon did a great job dealing with this topic and made this situation real to so many people who wouldn’t understand its importance. This is made possible in part due to great writing but the acting also helped bring it to life. Nick Robinson did a fantastic job as Simon. He pulled off the average American high school senior but he also did a great job when he had to pull off the emotional scenes. This film asked a lot from him and he delivered in a big way. Every emotion this movie wanted you to feel, you felt because he was bringing it on screen. With his character being the only fully formed character there was an extra bit of pressure to pull this off, which he handled like a pro. There were a few other good performances from the supporting characters, namely Simon’s parents played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel. They did a great job of being real and believable parents and for the most part they stayed out of the way and let Nick shine. However, when it was time for them to show up, they did so in a big way. The conversation each parent had with Simon after he came out was beautiful and emotional. They were able to make that situation feel genuine and heightened the moment. Another bright spot was Katherine Langford, who played Leah. There wasn’t much for her to do but she made the most of it. On the page her character seems hollow and not developed but she breathes life into this character and makes her real. She is someone we want to spend time with and that we root for. She has all the makings of a future star.
This is an objectively great film. It’s a YA movie meant for teenagers, but there is so much more going on here. This is a real story, with real people and it is emotionally gripping while still being funny. It has some great acting and it’s anchored by a beautiful script. More importantly, Love, Simon will make you feel something. You will feel what it was like the first time you fell in love. You will feel the time you were carrying a secret that you were scared to share. You will feel your first heartbreak. You will feel the liberation that you felt when you stopped hiding who you truly are.