Usually, films with gay themes are indies, only shown in LGBT film festivals. The more popular gay-themed films would have to be those that gained Oscar recognition, like "Brokeback Mountain" (Best Picture nominee 2005), "Moonlight" (Best Picture winner 2016) and "Call Me By Your Name" (Best Picture nominee 2017). Even these though have been rather art-house in their approach to their topic, not really mainstream. However, this year, "Love, Simon" will change all that.
The trailer of this film tells its synopsis quite clearly. Simon Spier is regular high school student with a happy family and a tight gang of friends. However, he has a secret that he never told anyone yet -- he is gay. One day when a schoolmate calling himself Blue confessed to being gay on the school gossip website, Simon reached out to him by email and struck an online friendship with him. Eventually though, these emails would lead to a situation for which Simon has to make an important decision.
Gay characters in teen films are usually sidekicks and comic relief, but here he is the leader of the group and the main character. This makes "Love, Simon" a breakthrough film in this genre. None of his friends nor family knew he was gay, so there was nothing funny about his inner conflict. This is an aspect which will connect with gay viewers of all ages, as they identify with Simon's struggle for freedom and against prejudice.
Director Greg Berlanti began his directing career with a gay-themed indie film "The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy" (2000). Since then, he gained more fame as a writer for several successful TV drama series, like "Dawson's Creek" and "Brothers and Sisters," and later for DC superhero series, like "Arrow," "The Flash" and "Supergirl." He made a return to feature film this year to direct "Love, Simon," coming around full circle. The script was not by Berlanti though. It written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, based on the a best-selling young adult novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli.
The big part of the charm of this film is the casting of Nick Robinson, a popular young actor who starred in films like "Jurassic World" (2015) and "The 5th Wave" (2016), as Simon. He played Simon very naturally, like he would any teenager. As the character Simon is a closeted gay guy, he would be self-conscious about his behavior so as not to let anything slip. Robinson portrayed all of that self-editing quite smoothly. Even in the final act, Robinson never fell into any gay stereotype. He sent the message that a gay guy is a regular guy, and should not be treated any differently.
Josh Duhamel, star of Berlanti's second film "Life as We Know It" (2010), played Simon's father Jack, with Jennifer Garner playing Simon's mom Emily. They portray understanding accepting parents so Simon was very lucky in this regard.
Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. play Simon's best friends Leah, Abby and Nick respectively. I wondered though why Simon never opened up to them from the get-go, particularly Leah, with whom he seemed to have shared a special closeness. Logan Miller was very annoying as their classmate Martin, a loser who can't do anything better with his life.
Overall, things were kept pleasant and light in this film, nothing overtly sexual at all (unlike most other gay-themed films). However, the second act, with all those negative actions being done in the effort to keep a secret secret, did not run so well with me. These acts were being done willfully by Simon against his friends. It was not easy to believe that a level-headed guy like him would do things like these, based on how their friendship was so well-built-up in the first act.
It was too bad that Simon's coming out did not happen on his own terms, which I think would have been more meaningful for a film like this. But it also wants to show the world the being forced out is not the end of the world. 7/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."