Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: "Love, Simon" is a sincere look at a different kind of high school movie

Love, Simon Review

Last night, as I wrote my review of "Rampage," I mentioned something that I've been saying for awhile now. Hollywood has become obsessed with creating a brand and setting up a tentpole franchise that will literally print the studios money for a good decade. But not only has the business changed in the branding end, but the business has become very politically correct. There are all-women remakes that have been made already, and there are more in the future. There has been controversy every single time the race of a main character is changed. And for some reason, it creates controversy every single time there are gay characters in movies. I've seen several movies that revolved around gay characters, and for some reason most of those movies are smaller, independent releases. Are we really too afraid of seeing gay characters in mainstream movies? Alabama didn't allow "Beauty and The Beast" to show at any of its movie theaters, even though the so-called "gay scene" really wasn't that explicit.

"Love, Simon" is a typical high school at face value. The movie revolves around a guy named Simon. Simon is played by Nick Robinson, and Robinson plays him like a normal kid. He's got his own interests and his own pleasures. He clearly has a good family who loves him. He's got a group a tight friends, and even though he may not be the most popular kid in school, he makes through each day okay. But Simon has a secret, a secret nobody knows. A secret that his family doesn't know about or even his close friends. Simon is gay, he's known he is gay since he was thirteen. He wants his family and his friends to know, but he's struggling how to come out to the people who are most important to him.

If you read that paragraph and have dismissed this review entirely, I feel bad for you. Even though the LGBTQ community is allowed to legally wed in this country, we are still uncomfortable with this community, and we are still especially uncomfortable when it comes to this community being represented in our pop culture. I can tell you that "Love, Simon" feels very much like a new age John Hughes movie, which is the main reason I loved it so much. The movie is funny without being teenage cheesy. The movie is romantic without being sappy. It remembers that these aren't writing weird characters simply because they are played by teenagers. These are just kids going through their own versions of happiness, as well as their own insecurities. The people in "Love, Simon" feel like real people, and if you are going to make a teen romance, you need your teenagers to be feel organic. Nothing that conservatives would consider "gross" happens, and if your so insecure that you can't watch two men kiss without getting squeamish then I guess you'll be skipping this. But this is all in very good taste.

Another reason why this feels like a John Hughes movie is that there is a subplot about Martin (Logan Miller). Martin is a classmate of Simon, and once Simon begins chatting in a closeted gay student forum, Martin accidentally learns Simon's secret. Martin blackmails Simon in order to get to know Simon's friend Abby (Alexandria Shipp) whom he has a crush on. Simon feels like he has no choice but to help him. It's not nearly has antagonistic as it sounds. Martin is one of full-energy, nerdy, hopeless romantics you usually see in high school movies. And the way Martin confesses his feelings to Abby become some of the highlights, simply because they are so shamelessly absurd. I may not agree with everything Martin does in the movie, but Logan Miller does such a good job playing him. 

In fact, performances are really good all around. Jennifer Garner and Josh Durhamel play Simon's parents. Garner plays the typical lovable mother, and Durhamel is the overly-sarcastic father, who is truly blind that his son isn't straight. Which leads to an empathetic crescendo when Simon finally comes out to them mid-movie. Katherine Langford and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. play Leah and Nick, Simon's other two close friends. Leah has secretly had a crush on Simon for a long time, and Nick really wants to date Abby, which Simon has to try and foil for Martin. It's gets really crazy, but there isn't any weird, unnecesary silliness. It feels like something you may have experienced in high school. Where everything happened in broad strokes. When even the smallest thing was either the best thing ever, or the end of the fucking world. "Love, Simon," during its best moments, feels like you are looking into the mirror and seeing your high school self in the reflection. And there were definitely some memories that washed over me as I watching. The lead character may be gay, but the movie still makes you identify with what it was like to be in high school. It conveys every complex emotion of teenagers just merely trying to navigate all of these emotions. 

Oh, and as a huge fan of the band Bleachers, I love, love, LOVE that the film both begins and ends with their music. Well, played.

The film was directed by Greg Berlanti. The guy up until "Love, Simon" is best known for getting "The Flarrowverse" up and running on The CW. I was blown away when I learned that it was Berlanti who directed this movie, since the way the characters move through the film is night and day compared to the Flarrowverse. For how melodramatic The Flarrowverse can be, I was blown away by just how sincere this storyline was and how organically things play out in the film. "Love, Simon" is a movie that is filled with surprises, and if you open your mind to it, you are guaranteed a great time.


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