Greg Berlanti/ USA/ 2018/ 109 mins
As part of Glasgow Film Festival
Simon is a closeted American teen about to finish high school. He’s from a loving home and has a close group of friends. However, when a student under the alias “Blue” uses social media to write about their sexuality, Simon enters into correspondence to anonymously converse with them. Soon he finds himself being blackmailed and juggling his friends as he tries to come out on his own terms and find somebody to love.
Adapted from the novel by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon seems to riding a wave of LGBT movies which have been doing the rounds since the success of Moonlight. Unlike titles such as Beach Rats and God’s Own Country, this film feels slightly more regressive. Indeed, this is a rather twee feel good coming out story, which contains nothing new or surprising as a result. If it wasn’t for the use of mobile phones and social media this film could have been comfortably set in the 1990’s.
The film opens by going out of its way to establish a nauseatingly sanitised version of American life (Simon’s parents were the high school football jock and his mum the prom queen etc.), complete with unbelievable dialogue that at times comes across as a rejected Dawson’s Creek script from twenty years ago. Throw in characters who feel like they have escaped from Glee (most notably Tony Hale’s Vice Principal, who manages to be both paradoxically awful and brilliant normally within the same scene) and you have all the tried and tested stock cliches for this teen coming out tale.
And yet, if you embrace this you’ll find an endearing film with some moments of heart and quite a lot of charm. In large part this is due to the central performance of Nick Robinson as Simon, who hits all of the right notes from comedy to awkwardness. The use of social media, with his conversation affording Simon a “safe place” to open up to the mysterious Blue, is one of the more notable features. There are no sinister goings on here, and the mystery element of Simon trying to determine Blue’s identity becomes pleasingly complicated and funny. The key emotional scenes where Simon has a heart-to-heart with his mother and father are handled well, with his father’s misunderstanding of Grindr guaranteed to make you laugh. But it’s Simon’s own key scene, where he confronts his blackmailer and berates them for taking his coming out away from him, that a salient point is well made.
From a production point of view this movie is entirely serviceable, with direction from Greg Berlanti being competent and unshowy. None of the actors let the side down, although the material they are given is hardly taxing. The soundtrack is a particular highlight, peppered with classics by The Kinks and Whitney Houston. As a film it’s not good or bad; just sort of… there.
Does the world still require movies like this when more sophisticated fare along similar lines (but with more bite) has recently been on general release to great critical acclaim? That’s a larger question out-with the scope of this review. But if you are in the mood for an untaxing, feel-good movie then Love, Simon will suffice.