Review: ‘Love, Simon’ is as important as it is ordinary

The film is one of the first mainstream coming-of-age movies about a gay teenager.

Nick Robinson in Love, Simon.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Nick Robinson in Love, Simon.

Maddy Folstein

Simon Spier is just a normal teenager. He lives in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. He has a close group of friends he spends all his time with. He performs in the ensemble of his high school musical, “Cabaret.” 

The thing that sets him apart in his mind, however? He’s gay, and no one knows, other than another closeted student. They met on their school’s gossip blog and use fake names to avoid giving away their real identities.

Based on the young adult novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” “Love, Simon” follows its titular character through his senior year of high school. It’s charming, sweet and appropriately shallow. 

Movies about teenagers are tricky. Being current, when movies are filmed months before they are screened, is challenging because cultural references can feel stale seconds later. Technology doesn’t quite translate naturally onscreen. “Love, Simon” falls victim to this dilemma occasionally. The gossip blog seems dated — “Gossip Girl” premiered over ten years ago, after all.

For the most part, however, “Love, Simon” finds its footing. The teenagers onscreen feel lived in, and details of their life are appropriate. Simon has a “Hamilton” playbill on his bulletin board, and he drives an old, red Subaru that one of your friends from high school probably had.

Most of the film’s conflict is derived from Simon’s fear of coming out, rather than the bullying he faces when he is out. Nick Robinson portrays this tension well — he plays Simon as a teenager facing an internal conflict who makes mistakes along the way. Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. round out the rest of Simon’s friend group, and, while their characters do remain somewhat underdeveloped, they capture the platonic intimacies of high school.

“Love, Simon” opens with its title character declaring just how normal he and his group of friends are. They see movies, drink too much iced coffee and eat too many carbs, just like the rest of us. The statement is a little cringe-y, and similar appeals to the young masses are made throughout most of the film.

To declare a gay teenager normal is important; to allow this ordinariness to pervade the entire film gets boring. “Love, Simon” sometimes feels flat, despite its level of detail. The film is set in an unnamed wealthy suburb filled with accepting parents and snow-less winters. The only suggestion of any time and place? A shot of the Atlanta skyline at the very end of the film. The richness of detail in “Love, Simon” is lost in these moments. If the film’s goal is to seem as “relatable” and “normal” as possible, its bland, suburban utopia seems foreign.

But “Love, Simon” still feels important, despite these drawbacks. Its bubblegum-pop soundtrack, helmed by Bleachers lead singer Jack Antonoff, and suburban dreamland allow Simon’s story to be placed among the ranks of other cheesy teen movies. But the film’s ordinariness is also what makes it so groundbreaking — it has the hallmarks of a sometimes boring teen movie but with a gay teenager at the forefront. The result? A coming-of-age and coming out movie that is both radical and ordinary, charming and boring.  

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