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Some say Hollywood rom-coms are dead. Others argue that rom-coms now live on television rather than the big screen. Love, Simon, on the other hand, suggests that all the rom-com requires is a much-needed and long overdue upgrade.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon follows closeted gay high school student Simon Spier (Everything, Everything’s Nick Robinson) as he meets and falls in love with a fellow classmate.
As with any good rom-com, there are a few complications. One: Simon only knows his secret pen pal as “Blue.” Two: Simon only communicates with Blue online and has never actually met him in person. And Three: Simon’s socially awkward acquaintance, Martin, has threatened to expose Simon’s sexuality and relationship with Blue unless he helps Martin score a date with new student Abby (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp).
Love, Simon’s complex plot allows director Greg Berlanti (who produces Riverdale and every DC superhero TV show known to humankind) to explore common but nonetheless nerve-wracking teenage afflictions. Abby is trying to wipe the metaphorical slate clean after learning about her dad’s affair. Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is crushing on Abby but doesn’t know how to ask her out. Simon’s best friend, Leah (13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford), grapples with feelings of isolation and rejection.
And then there’s Simon, who’s not only trying to figure out how to come out but also how to stop Martin from coming out for him. It’s an incredibly tricky situation—one that many Love, Simon viewers will probably never experience themselves. But the film nevertheless manages to make Simon’s plight feel infinitely relevant, particularly to young people who have come out or are thinking about coming out.
From referencing beloved emo pop icon Brendon Urie to depicting the very real experience of desperately trying to leave a party, Love, Simon successfully portrays Simon and his group of friends as relatably as possible. And we mean relatable in an “I know these people in real life” kind of way, not an “I’ve seen these exact archetypes in a million other movies” kind of way. Instead of bragging about his sexual conquests, confident soccer bro Nick admits that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing when he lost his virginity. Simon awkwardly tries to get a cute landscaper’s attention by complimenting him on his boots and Googles “how to dress like a gay guy” before sheepishly realizing that jean jackets and t-shirts are more his speed.
Love, Simon’s story feels real. And apart from a couple of exceptions (e.g. Tony Hale as over-the-top vice principal Mr. Worth), so do its characters. A few moments from Albertalli’s book are also elevated and exaggerated for the film, but for the most part every change either adds to the story or helps deliver a key piece of information audiences may not have picked up otherwise.
Robinson as Simon has the difficult task of delivering most of that information. And while he often comes across as a little vanilla, the film’s biggest downfall isn’t Simon but rather Simon’s relationship with Blue. To be fair, translating Simon and Blue’s relationship to the screen couldn’t have been easy. In the book, their budding romance becomes apparent via the increasingly personal emails they send to one another.
There simply isn’t enough time to go through each and every one of their messages in a 110-minute movie, but Simon and Blue’s eventual union consequently isn’t as satisfying as it is in the book. That being said, we’ve got to give it up to the writers (who also work on the heart-wrenching This Is Us, natch) for throwing in an unexpected curveball and urging everyone—even spoiled Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda fans—to doubt Blue’s true identity right up until the film’s end.
At first glance, Love, Simon is a more progressive Easy A—like Olive’s parents, Simon’s mom and dad (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) are equal parts caring and quick-witted. A late scene in which multiple students read one of Simon’s blog posts also closely resembles a montage of Olive’s friends and teachers watching her final web cast.
But Love, Simon is more than just a modern rehash. It’s an encouraging sign of what’s to come from big Hollywood studios and an indication that rom-coms are “dying” not because they’re bad, but because they (mostly) insist on telling the exact same stories over and over again. Love, Simon tells a different story, and that’s why it works. And with any luck, Love, Simon’s success will encourage studios to explore narratives that are even more diverse and boundary-pushing than this one.