Love, Simon is about a closeted gay teenager named Simon (Nick Robinson). He has been hiding his sexuality from even his closest friends. Then, a student at the high school he attends posts anonymously on an online forum, talking about his struggle with being gay and staying in the closet. Simon begins a similarly anonymous correspondence with this classmate, whom he knows only as “Blue,” forming a pretty profound connection through their shared experience. But then, another classmate of his finds out about the emails, and Simon is soon scrambling to do everything he can to maintain his secret.
The movie gets off to a somewhat rocky start as it introduces its setting and its predicament. The film invests a lot in the idea that Simon actually has a pretty good life: a loving and supportive family, good friends, and pretty high status in his school. In doing so, the movie sets up a somewhat off-putting sense of privilege, especially as Simon, through narration, insists that he’s “just like you.” But this matters less and less as the movie goes on, finding its stride as it gets intimate with its characters and turns a coming-out story into a bubbly teenage romance.
The film really becomes remarkable for what it projects: a world where coming out, while still a struggle, is kind of a normal event. The drama is mostly kept light, and the conflicts that arise are almost immediately resolved. It kind of normalizes the coming-out narrative to a point where, at times, it feels secondary to some of the machinations of this plot. A lot of sequences in this film aren’t about Simon struggling with his feelings, but instead mostly about the identity of his mystery paramour. Some of the most compelling stretches in the movie are just building up this idea of Blue, and projecting those qualities on the people around him.
Given that, some of those machinations don’t work nearly as well. The central conflict, which involves a character that essentially blackmails Simon into helping him woo one of his friends, is a non-starter, involving a level of vilfication that doesn’t really fit with the otherwise warm setting of the movie. The film does take some strides to add nuance to that character, but it isn’t nearly enough to make up for the strange toxicity that it brings.
But when the film just gets down to the business of Simon and his feelings, when it puts him in small scenes that have him spilling his heart to his friends and family, it really sings. A lot of this has to do with the sweetness of the performances. Nick Robinson can come off as kind of bland, but he brings an earnestness to the role that goes a long way. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are able to present two sides of a parental divide, expressing distinct reactions to their son’s revelations. Simon’s friends aren’t written too deeply, but the young actors are able to make their scenes count.
Love, Simon makes some miscalculations in its plot that make the main character a little more unlikable than he really ought to be, and this ultimately keeps it from being the touchstone that it could be. But still, it’s worthwhile fluff. There is just merit to what this film brings to the fore, what it’s able to treat as completely normal. And in the end, it certainly doesn’t have any more flaws or contrivances than any other teenage romantic film. And that’s the most remarkable thing about this movie: it really isn’t much different from every other teenage romantic film. And that’s a good thing.