A sweet coming of age film for both gay millennials and nostalgic adults.
Director John Hughes had an uncanny ability to articulate the universal feelings experienced by American adolescents in films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Despite trying, no filmmaker has achieved his level of craft since, but the new movie Love, Simon gives it a shot with something John Hughes never attempted: a lead character who is gay.
Hughes’ influence is obvious from the first frame of Love, Simon: the 80s-esque soundtrack, the on-picture title montage, the way the movie draws you in with Simon’s voice over when it follows him on his morning routine as Simon and his group of friends caravan to school. Simon’s life feels effortless and care free until he tells you his one big secret: he’s gay. But to the movie’s credit, the story does not stop there. We soon realize Simon’s friends have their own struggles with first love and, as the film unfolds, their stories will weave together a dramatic (but always believable) story of high school first love that includes lots of young people speaking up for themselves for the first time – a staple of John Hughes films if there ever was one.
I’ll be honest, I was ready to hate this movie, if only because the Hollywood hype machine can’t stop congratulating itself, claiming Love, Simon is the first gay rom com that’s ever been made while, in truth, queer indie filmmakers have been making high school romance movies for decades now and some of them have been pretty good (But I’m A Cheerleader, Beautiful Thing, I Killed My Mother). And Love, Simon is often painfully mediocre: the Pottery Barn showroom that stands in for Simon’s family’s home; the cartoonish high school characters and faculty; the always-required house party; the hyper-articulate teens who have only wise things to say to each other. But these are genre conventions, so it’s hard to critique the film for this reason alone.
The biggest thing missing in the film is the presence of real comedy. Watching it, you realize how effortlessly Hughes made you laugh. Love, Simon is an earnest film with occasionally funny moments; most of them belong to the long-suffering drama teacher Ms. Albright (the amazing Natasha Rothwell) as she struggles to pull together a performance of Cabaret. (Quick question: would a public high school in middle America really put on a production of Cabaret? I highly doubt it.)
Nick Robinson who plays Simon, is a good actor who does a good job portraying Simon’s struggle and that’s basically all the film asks of him. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play Simon’s parents and the scenes of Simon coming out to them definitely had me wiping away a few tears. It’s when I found myself crying that I realized that Love, Simon’s broad appeal might come from it’s ability to speak not only to the millennials it portrays, but also as a retro “re-do” that gay adults can watch and imagine what it would have been like if we had seen this movie when we were in our teens and revel at just how far we’ve come since Ferris had his day off.