GFF 2018: Greg Berlanti's teen comedy deals coyly with the challenges around coming-out
Adapted from the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is the considerably less specific title that director Greg Berlanti (Life as We Know It) has chosen for his teen comedy. The twist is that the central character, Simon, is a gay teenager, but any genuine flavour that might be suggested by that decision is washed out in this blandly homogenised production.
Set in one of Atlanta's more affluent areas, Love, Simon is the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a young man at high school with a passion for his female friends, but not as lovers, and a keen interest in musical theatre. Simon's parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) have yet to recognise that Simon is conforming to cinematic stereotypes of a closeted gay man, but when Simon starts swapping emails with an anonymous character he knows only as 'Blue', it's clearly time for him to open up and find his ideal match.
If only Love, Simon stuck to this storyline, it might have come up freshly, but Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger's script gets bogged down in irrelevant sub-plots about blackmail and friendship. These sideshows shunt Simon's discovery of his lover's identity and his first kiss until the end credits, coyly rendering off-limits any depiction of Simon's sexuality, or consideration of how his relationship might unfold.
While minor characters like Simon's teachers (Arrested Development's Tony Hale and a spirited Natasha Rothwell) are better drawn than expected, and the package has a slick studio gloss, Love, Simon is a cop-out as a gay teen movie. Indie dramas routinely tackle coming-out issues far better; in 2018 there's no reason or excuse for a commercial film to be so unwilling to honestly engage with the sexuality of its protagonist.
Screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 6 Apr.