Gay Teen Navigates Coming out in Heartfelt and Humorous ‘Love, Simon’

Dealing with the rollercoaster of hormones that is adolescence isn’t easy for anyone, and those who identify as anything other than heterosexual face additional challenges. Even under the best possible circumstances in 2018, coming out to one’s peers and family isn’t exactly a cakewalk. This is the case for Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), the protagonist of the teen dramedy “Love, Simon.” A well-liked high school senior, Simon comes from a picture-perfect family that includes his happily married and successful parents, Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (Josh Duhamel). Despite his parents’ liberal leanings, Simon fears that if they were to learn his “big-ass secret,” they would somehow see him as a being different person. Same goes for his core group of friends, which is comprised of lifelong pals Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Leah (Katherine Langford) as well as, Abby (Alexandra Shipp), a recent transplant. Based on the YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens by Becky Albertalli, this adaptation doesn’t hit a false note as Simon navigates his coming of age. At one point, our hero ponders why is it that only gay people have to deal with the rite of passage that is coming out. What’s the big deal, anyway?

Unlike previous generations, Simon and his peers have social media as an outlet, which is shown here as being both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is through an anonymous blog that Simon and his classmates use to post anonymous confessions that he comes in contact with “Blue,” a fellow closeted gay student at his school. Using the pseudonym “Jacques,” Simon engages in an email correspondence with Blue in which the young men pour out their hearts and souls to each other, and discovering Blue’s identity becomes something of an obsession for Simon. Things get complicated after a socially inept classmate, Martin (Logan Miller), discovers the email and uses them to blackmail Simon into helping him win over Abby. If Simon doesn’t comply, Martin will out him online, and this is where the curse part comes in. Gone are the days when gossip trickled down crowded hallways; with just a click of a mouse one’s whole world can come crashing down.

Director Greg Berlanti and writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, two of the scribes behind the hit NBC series “This Is Us,” do an adequate job here of exploring what it means to be gay in our modern era. One thing that holds Simon back from coming out is a fear that he will be lumped together with the only openly gay kid at school, the flamboyant Ethan (Clark Moore). Simon may not have any desire to emulate Ethan’s personal style, but deep down he is jealous of his ability to be out and proud. It is Ethan who delivers some of the more witty lines, smashing stereotypes and eliciting cheers as he takes down meathead bullies. It is through Ethan that Simon learns that there is no one way to be gay. As simple as this sounds, it’s difficult for Simon to comprehend how he can live his truth and still be the same person he always has been, and the filmmakers do an excellent job here of showing his internal struggle.

Simon’s straight friends don’t fare much better when it comes to dealing with their budding sexualities, even cool guy Nick. Nick confesses to Simon his feelings for Abby, putting Simon in a tough spot due to his aforementioned deal with Martin. Lendeborg, a young actor whose star is definitely on the raise, plays his part with the perfect mix of charm and vulnerability. He has one of the best lines in the film that sums up what it’s like to be a young person navigating the wondrous maze that is sex. Admitting to Simon that he has only done it once, he divulges “everything was dark and slippery.”

The character of Leah, however, feels more one-note. Predictably, she harbors a quiet passion for her gay bestie, and when she confesses her feelings, it’s played as though it’s supposed to be a big reveal, although the viewer sees it coming from a mile away. Both Leah and Langford deserve better.

The most heartfelt moment of the film comes towards the end when Garner as Emily gives a speech that packs a real emotional punch, one that moved several viewers to tears at a recent screening.

The first major studio film to feature a gay teen protagonist, “Love, Simon” has already generated buzz from the likes of Jim Parsons, praising it for the positive impact on a community that has thus far been underrepresented in Hollywood.

Love, Simon” opens March 16 nationwide.