LOVE, SIMON (Greg Berlanti). 109 minutes. Opens Friday (March 16). See listing. Rating: NNNN
It’s common to hear laughter and tears at advance movie screenings. But after the climax and conclusion of Love, Simon, the theatre also erupted in cheers and applause.
The reaction is deserved. Greg Berlanti’s film, adapted from Becky Albertalli’s bestselling YA novel, is that rare creation: a feel-good romantic-comedy with a gay kid as the protagonist and not, as per usual, the sassy or sad sidekick.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a well-adjusted teen living in the suburbs with his attractive, progressive parents (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and precocious aspiring-chef younger sister (Talitha Bateman).
He’s got a loyal set of diverse friends, including gal pal Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and new-student-in-town Abby (Alexandra Shipp), whom Nick’s crushing on.
But Simon’s kept his sexual orientation a secret – that is, until another queer student, calling himself “Blue,” posts an anonymous note on a message board and Simon impulsively starts up an email conversation and eventually begins falling for him.
The film is partly a mystery. Who is this Blue? As Simon changes his theories based on his emails, Berlanti (Riverdale, Supergirl, Brothers & Sisters) cleverly lets Blue be played by whomever Simon currently thinks is the guy.
Things get more complicated when another student, the annoying Martin (Logan Miller), finds Simon and Blue’s correspondence and promises to out him if he doesn’t set him up with Abby.
There’s a lot of plot – some comic, some devastating – but Berlanti gracefully interweaves all the strands, eventually making each of his central characters more complex and sympathetic than they initially seem.
Berlanti also understands that not everyone can and wants to blend in. The school’s sole out student (Clark Moore) protects himself with some great one-liners, but the way he’s ruthlessly bullied isn’t glossed over.
Robinson’s Simon is a revelation, his hooded eyes suggesting they see a lot more than they let on, while the charismatic Shipp steals all of her scenes as a student with her own demons.
And Garner has a moving, heartfelt monologue about the cost of living with secrets.
The film is layered with beautiful details, from the Elliott Smith poster and Hamilton playbill in Simon’s room to the realistically bad high school production of Cabaret that Natasha Rothwell (Insecure) directs with maximum bitchiness.
So bring on the tears… and cheers.