It warms my heart that there are movies like Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon: movies that are affectionate, optimistic, that carry their heart on their sleeve, that feel empathy and compassion for all their characters, not just their protagonists.
Nick Robinson may have a career-launching role in the titular Simon, a high school student who knows he’s gay, hasn’t told anyone, but can feel that the time to come out is approaching. He has good friends and a loving family, but high school is a harsh environment even in the best conditions, and his situation grows more complicated when he starts exchanging e-mails with the anonymous Blue, another gay boy from his school. A classmate finds out and blackmails Simon; now Simon risks not only being outed himself, but outing Blue as well.
Figuring out Blue’s identity is a major narrative throughline of the movie, but to me it’s the least interesting part of it all; it is, really, Simon’s identity that anchors the story. The heart of the film is in seeing him grapple with the monumental prospect of coming out, gauge who would feel betrayed or resent him if they knew. Although the film is extremely positive and doesn’t wallow in drama, it does not pretend homophobia does not exist. Berlanti dances deftly between humour and earnestness, knows when to cut to something else and when to stay in a conversation.
Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are preternaturally likable as Simon’s parents, loving and supportive, and my only complaint is not getting to see more of them. Garner, like she did in Juno (remember the scene when she feels the baby kicking?), knows how to take a short role and imbue it with warmth and kindness; she gets to shine in a touching scene of wisdom and acceptance with her son. Meanwhile, Tony Hale, whom I have never seen give a bad performance, steals every scene he’s in as the exhaustingly chipper, gleefully oversharing principal at the school. (Katherine Langford has an easier job here than in 13 Reasons Why but I still wanted to call out her amazing American accent!)
I think of the good it will do to a gay teenager to watch such heartfelt coming-of-age films as Call Me by Your Name or Love, Simon, to know not just that they’re not alone and that there’s room in culture for them, but also to see the different ways in which life can play out. To see the face of acceptance, within reach.