Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Greg Berlanti

Stars: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jorge Lendeborg jr, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Keiynan Lonsdale, Miles Heizer, Joey Pollari, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Clark Moore.

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I liked Simon a lot, but I didn’t love Simon! This enjoyable queer teen love story deals with themes of sexual orientation, coming out, friendship, bullying, family, peer pressure, which gives it a universal appeal. It is also refreshing to see a major Hollywood studio financing and distributing a gay themed movie in multiplexes.

Seventeen-year old Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson, from Jurassic World, etc) is a seemingly normal teenager, who comes from a loving and close knit middle class family. However, he has one big secret – he is gay and is still firmly in the closet. His angst over how he would be accepted by his friends – particularly Leah (Australian actress Katherine Langford), soccer jock Nick (Jorge Lendeborg jr) and new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp) – and peers drives his actions. But then one night his best friend Leah tells him of an anonymous blog posted by a fellow student at their high school who announces that he is gay. Intrigued, Simon logs onto the blog written by a student who identifies himself only as Blue. Simon responds, and the two begin a correspondence in which they share their thoughts, their intimate secrets, their reservations about coming out publicly.

But then the obnoxious and slightly creepy Martin (Logan Miller, from Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, etc) stumbles across Simon’s emails and threatens to expose his secret unless he fixes him up on a date with fellow student Abby. Against his better judgement, Simon reluctantly goes along with Martin, which eventually alienates him from his former best friends.

Love, Simon is based on the YA novel Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda written by Becky Albertalli, and it has been adapted for the screen by writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who both hail from a background in television with series like This Is Us to their credit. They have crafted a script that is both witty and sympathetic.

The director is Greg Berlanti, best known for his work on tv with Dawson’s Creek and superhero dramas in the DC universe (The Flash, etc) and he clearly understands this territory. Much like the superb Call Me By Your Name, which was more of an art house film, and 1996’s Beautiful Thing, this exploration of a sensitive teen coming to terms with his sexuality will resonate strongly with its target audience and should hopefully pave the way for more queer-themed stories to find their way into the mainstream.

Growing up is often a time of confusion and angst for teenagers, and Simon’s emotional journey of self-discovery is one shared by lots of high school teenagers, which gives the material a universal appeal. The film doesn’t really push the envelope or break new ground, but it does retread some of the familiar clichés of the teen coming of age drama.

Berlanti keeps the tone relatively light and upbeat throughout, despite a rather sluggish start. Love, Simon is almost like an LGBTQ version of a John Hughes’ movie from the 80s, although Berlanti doesn’t quite have the same assured touch or insight. But he nicely develops an air of suspense as he keeps Blue’s identity a secret until the very end, allowing Simon to fantasise about several likely prospects, including Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale, from tv series The Flash, etc), cute musician Cal (Miles Heizer) and friendly waiter Lyle (Joey Pollari).

The strength of the film lies in its characters, who are all grounded in reality and recognisable.

Robinson brings warmth and charm and a touch of self-effacing humour to his performance as Simon, and he is an endearing and likeable character, despite some flaws. This is arguably his best performance to date. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are wonderful in small roles as Simon’s liberal-minded, sympathetic and supportive parents. The rest of the cast deliver solid performances as teens who are all wrestling with their own problems.

But the best characters here are Mrs Albright (Natasha Rothwell), the no-nonsense drama teacher who gets some of the best moments, and the school’s dorky assistant principal Mr Worth (Tony Hale, from Veep, etc), who provides some comic relief.

Fresh from its centrepiece screening at the recent Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Love, Simon gets a commercial release in multiplexes everywhere. Love, Simon may be a gay-themed coming of age story, but this crowd pleaser does have broad appeal and delivers some positive messages about acceptance, inclusion and being true to yourself.


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