Love, Simon, directed by Greg Berlanti, is a heartwarming romantic comedy about a relatable teenager with a big secret. It has been praised as a cultural landmark for being the first movie featuring a gay protagonist to be produced by a major studio. Although recent progress in queer cinema has definitely been made with indie films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, Love, Simon stands apart because it is a lighthearted film—a romantic comedy that appeals to the most general of audiences.
For 17-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), life is not necessarily as easy as it first seems. He has a loving family, a great group of friends and a house that looks like it came straight off of HGTV—but he also has a secret. Simon is gay, and he is having difficulty figuring out how to tell anyone.
Soon Simon finds himself falling in love with an anonymous classmate he meets online. Blue and Jacques (Simon’s alias) exchange emails, Blue’s persona ever-changing as Simon attempts to deduce his true identity. Things become more complicated when an obnoxious theater kid, Martin (Logan Miller), finds Simon’s emails and threatens to leak them to the whole school unless Simon can get his friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp)—“the hottest girl in school”—to go out with him. This turns Simon’s life into a balancing act that proves both hilarious and heartwarming.
There is a lot to like about Love, Simon, but its biggest strength by far is its characters. Nick Robinson gives a star-making performance as the titular Simon, creating a character that the audience can truly care about. Other standouts include Simon’s supportive, goofy parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and his friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Abby (Shipp), who are both strong and kind in the midst of dealing with their own difficulties.
The characters form a perfect friend group, a hilarious, uplifting support system that the audience can root for along with Simon. They are all large personalities, quick to accept him and quick to forgive. They drink iced coffee, make witty (or sometimes mean) jokes and dress in in trendy Halloween costumes—showing that the filmmakers have a definite grasp on young adult culture in the present day.
More than anything, Love, Simon advocates self-acceptance. It proves that being true to yourself can be difficult, even when you have a kind, accepting family and friends. “First I thought it was just a gay thing,” Simon says near the end of the film. “But then I realized no matter what, announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying, because what if the world doesn’t like you?” At its core, Love, Simon is about accepting yourself and expressing it to the world, making it relatable for anyone, no matter their sexuality.
Despite its strengths, however, the film can sometimes feel overly manufactured. From the ‘home video’ that made it seem like every family in the early 2000s had a professional cinematographer following them around all the time, to Simon’s carefully decorated house, complete with a chalk wall, a balcony and a perfectly manicured lawn, the suburb that Simon and his friends call home sometimes feel unrealistically perfect.
Because of its glossiness, the film can often feel manipulative. Its electronic music swells, and the audience cannot help but feel like this scene was specifically designed to make them cry. Love, Simon is made almost entirely of cheese, and it does not try to hide that. Still, even in its sappiness, the film is largely successful in making its audience feel good.
Ultimately, Simon solves his problems with a romantic gesture that will one day be remembered alongside famous cinematic grand gestures like John Cusack holding up a boombox in Say Anything or Drew Barrymore waiting on the pitcher’s mound in Never Been Kissed.
Love, Simon does not stray far from the most common devices of teen rom-coms. There are house parties, football games and even a quick musical sequence.
Touching and heartwarming, Love, Simon is significant not only as a step forward in queer cinema, but as a classic teen rom-com that viewers can watch, and rewatch, for years to come.