Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: "Love, Simon"

So here is the first truly great and important movie of the year, and no, it’s not the one about the guy in the black cat suit who thinks he’s so cool.

“Love, Simon” reminds me a lot of those John Hughes high school movies from the ‘80s. They seemed like pop confections at first glance, filled with love triangles and teen angst. But they had deeper themes going on just behind the surface, about how we all feel alienated and alone.

This movie is a little more conspicuous in its ambitions, starring Nick Robinson as Simon Spier, a high school senior who’s on the verge of coming out as gay. He gains the courage to do so after striking up an anonymous correspondence with another student who posted to their school’s message board, and over time finds himself falling for this unseen lover.

Very Cyrano de Bergerac.

Part of the fantasy is that Simon envisions different boys he encounters to be “Blue,” his pen pal’s pseudonym. Each leads to a dead end, which depresses Simon but also spurs him to the next romantic bloom.

Meanwhile, he finds himself unwittingly pushing away his three best friends: Leah (Katherine Langford), best pals since kindergarten; Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), an exuberant soccer star; and Abby (Alexandra Shipp), the new girl at school whom they’ve adopted into their little clique. Complicating things further are some unseen love lines between the foursome that will come into play.

It’s based on the novel, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli -- which is a much better title -- adapted for the screen by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, and directed by Greg Berlanti.

“Love, Simon” wears the clothes of a high school comedy, and indeed it’s often a ferociously funny film. But it’s also wise and perceptive, treating its largely teen cast as imperfect individuals rather than idealized or contemptible caricatures.

One of the things I really admired about the movie is that almost everybody in it comes across as looking foolish at some point or another, but also has moments of nobility and grace. Even Martin, the socially inept heel who threatens to out Simon after intercepting his emails -- played with unnerving, offbeat charisma by Logan Miller -- gets a turn to be the cool kid.

Likewise, Simon’s dad is played by Josh Duhamel, a jokey, ex-jock type who we suspect wouldn’t be too receptive to having a gay son. They get a scene together that left puddles under my seat. Jennifer Garner is the mom, who’s more serious and centered.

Tony Hale turns up as Mr. Worth, the incredibly exuberant vice principal at the school, constantly forcing uncomfortable connections with students in between confiscating their cellphones. Yet he projects an aura of desperation beneath the punch lines, and we can easily envision what his own high school experience was like.

“Love, Simon” is a lovely movie because it accepts that everybody feels weird and awkward as a teenager, especially when we’re negotiating the first stumbling steps in the dance of love, and even more so when we find our affections flowing in a direction not always deemed socially acceptable.

Here’s a film that simply says it’s OK to be young and gay and in love... even if you don’t know exactly who you’re in love with just yet.

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