Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There are very few movies that grab you by the heart and cling hold as genuinely as director Greg Berlanti’s LOVE, SIMON does. Based on the book Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, the coming-of-age romantic comedy deals with Simon Spier’s (Nick Robinson) tumultuous emotions as he grapples with coming out to friends (played by Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Keiynan Lonsdale) and family (played by Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner and Talitha Bateman).
The long and the short of it? Bring tissues!
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, the stars and director gathered to tell a handful of us journalists a few noteworthy tidbits.
6. Ms. Albright makes you wish she was your high school drama teacher. Natasha Rothwell, having worked as an educator in real life, brought an identifiable authenticity to her role as Simon’s no-nonsense drama teacher, Ms. Albright. “I had two awesome drama teachers in high school: Miss O’Neil and Mr. Walsh. In real life, I taught theater in the Bronx for four years. It was a Venn diagram of Ms. Albright and the life I lived. I pulled from all those experiences to find her. To Greg’s credit, he allowed me to play on set and find her voice and how she moved.” And if you’re wondering, yes, she’s pulled many students off tables. “I’ve pulled many a student off many places. All out of love. The thing I loved about this character is that the theater in high school, for me, and even as a teacher, is a home for people who felt like they were on the outside. It was a safe space. As a teacher, it was up to me to fiercely protect it as a safe space. It was not just being an ally in theory, but what does being an active ally look like.”
5. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. took the role as a tribute to a friend. Three days before Lendeborg Jr., who plays Simon’s bestie Nick, decided to sign onto the film, his friend came out to him. “She was not happy, but only because [the film] was going to come out on her birthday. She was like, ‘Why are you doing my thing on my birthday?!’” Shipp, who plays Simon’s newest bestie Abby Suso, pointed out, “You stole her gay thunder, which is so not cool!” Laughing that off, he earnestly added, “The thing is I’m doing it for her. So when she sees it, I’ll really know. I’ll have a real person who I can check in with to gage.”
4. Social media’s governing role in a teen’s life. How the teen characters utilize social media as part of their daily routines is an important part of the narrative. In real life, it can be just as tricky to maneuver. Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Nick’s classmate Bram, said, “More and more, we’re able to be inspired by people not just showing their highlights, but expressing when they have anxiety, or their truths. That’s an exciting thing where social media can go.” Shipp thinks the film shows all the facets of being online. “What you get to see in LOVE, SIMON is that there are positive aspects to it, where you can find that community and then there’s ways to be cyber-bullied and shamed, like what happened to Martin’s character. That’s super detrimental. It’s pertinent that we celebrate the people who share themselves, but take it upon ourselves to not shame people through social media.”
3. The reaction. As you’d imagine with a film that inspires people to speak and live in their truth honestly, this film has garnered such a warm response. This is a movie that’s assuredly needed right now. Rothwell wisely puts it, “It’s a story about how you live your life more authentically. I think that’s why we need it right now in this climate – that authenticity is being more celebrated and people are being drawn to it.” Berlanti backed that sentiment up, stating, “All people, from all walks of life (in red states and blue states), to see their reactions, particularly to the ending, has been personally rewarding to me. To see audiences of all kinds applauding a gay kiss is really powerful – and something I never thought I’d see in a film like this.”
2. The cast did not set about to make the crew cry. There are just as many moments that will make audiences laugh as there are to make them cry. But on set, the cast had no idea how the words they were tasked to make a reality would affect those around them in the moment. Robinson said, “I don’t know that I ever set out to make a grip cry, but I will say the one scene I felt like we were in the right ballpark was the scene between Simon and his mom. That was a very emotional day for everybody. People weren’t expecting the emotion that happened. Our producers were crying. The grips were crying. I think that speaks to the fact that whether you’re gay or straight, hearing that speech of ‘You are worthy and you deserve love and you can exhale,’ are so powerful.” Berlanti stated, “Not even necessarily on the day we were shooting it, but I would go in on the weekends and watch cut footage. I started crying watching certain scenes that weren’t even the biggest emotional scenes – stuff like regular family scenes. It was the simple power of representation. It was a real visceral void that I didn’t even know needed to be filled that was getting filled.”
1. The actors cried watching the assembled product. As a human, let alone one who worked on the film, it’s impossible not to be moved by this lovely rom-com. Rothwell said, “I definitely cried. I cried at the first screening, the second screening, thinking about y’all seeing it!” Shipp elucidated, “I cry at many different moments the more I see this movie.” Langford, who plays Simon’s oldest best female friend Leah, mentioned, “I cry during interviews just talking about the film.”
LOVE, SIMON opens on March 16. Read our review here.