Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, 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
Rated PG-13, 109 minutes
Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Starring: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Talitha Eliana Bateman
Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back.
Girl pines over boy. A series of misadventures ensues. Girl gets boy.
These are the most popular kinds of romantic comedies available to teens. But this tried, true and (cough, cough) heteronormative formula isn’t totally reflective of the modern teen experience. Thank goodness those weaned on John Hughes’ oeuvre have grown up to be full-fledged storytellers in their own right, so that divine variations can occur. One that should be given a great big bear hug is director Greg Berlanti’s LOVE, SIMON. This is an absolutely sensational, heart-on-its-sleeve, coming-of-age coming out story set against the backdrop of the backpacks and backroads of suburbia. Not only would it make Hughes stand up and cheer, its honesty and tenderness are destined to leave a lasting legacy.
High-school senior Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is just your average seventeen-year-old. His good-looking, liberal parents, Jack (Josh Duhamel) and Emily (Jennifer Garner), love him. Wanna-be chef sister Nora (Talitha Eliana Bateman) adores him. Long-time besties Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), as well as the squad’s newbie Abby (Alexandra Shipp), cherish his friendship. He’s in the school musical, eats too many carbs and drinks way too many iced coffees. And he’s harboring a huge secret he can barely mutter aloud: He’s gay! But after he reads an anonymous confessional on his school’s website, Simon’s world opens up, for better and worse. He feels encouraged to come clean about his own truth to the mystery classmate – whom, of course, he begins falling for. What transpires is a tale that’ll make you laugh, sob in front of strangers and, of course, order the soundtrack on the walk to your car.
LOVE, SIMON is so touching, honest and witty, it’s impossible not to be moved. There are myriad reasons why screenwriters’ Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker’s adaptation of author Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is so special. Centering the story on a gay male teen gives the formula a refreshing polish. Simon’s struggles are obviously going to speak to a lot of people who are either going through something similar, or could use a gentle, inspired push in the right direction. There’s genuine heart, charm and sensitivity behind these motivations that make it easy to connect with them, no matter your orientation. Simon’s normal teenage anxieties and wants are clear-eyed and concise – as are those of his parents and pals. It’s believable that some teens wouldn’t have a clear idea of empathy yet, so any poor actions – like those of the school bullies and that of insecure weirdo Martin (Logan Miller, Keith Coogan’s doppelganger), who blackmails Simon – are understandable, serving as non-precious, teachable moments.
The film comes alive in the ensemble’s hands. Robinson is adept at coaxing out the comedy, subtleties and vulnerability of his role. Garner, a romcom stalwart herself, delivers an all-timer gut-punching monologue akin to Michael Stuhlbarg’s in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Between her “moms that make me cry” roles in MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN and now this, it’s clear this is her cornered market. Duhamel finds success here as well, turning in heartrending, naturalistic work. However, it’s Natasha Rothwell, playing Simon’s no-nonsense drama teacher Mrs. Albright, who walks away with the film’s MVP trophy, providing the majority of the laughs.
Pacing is critical and, blessedly, never this film’s problem. Thankfully free of lulls or other pesky maladies, Berlanti keeps narrative momentum moving at a snappy pace. The genre’s tropey trappings are inescapable, but here, they’re utilized fluidly. Romcommy hallmarks are sprinkled in where we might expect – but we never suspect when changes will arise and, more importantly, how they’ll affect us. A humiliating, public grand gesture happens! A “you lied to me” moment transpires! A whimsical, spontaneous, choreographed dance number occurs! Seeing these elements done with more craft and care than most romcoms of its ilk is tremendous.
Berlanti, cinematographer John Guleserian, and costume designer Eric Daman also give the picture visual interest. The audience can chart the character’s seasonal progression through subtle shifts in wardrobe. Berlanti repeats the god’s eye view of Simon’s coffee order to great emotional impact, without any dialogue drawing attention to it. There’s a brilliance in the ways he and Guleserian visually contextualize Simon’s email exchanges, showing the mystery dude’s hands typing, or the back of his head, framed ever-just-so, all bathed in cool, blue light. Sonically, Rob Simonsen’s original compositions give this a modern, warm synth heartbeat evocative of beloved romcoms past.
Essentially, there’s plenty to love about LOVE, SIMON.
LOVE, SIMON opens on March 16.