Monday 26 March 2018

Love, Simon - Greg Berlanti

There’s a dream sequence partway through Love, Simon in which a handful of straight teenagers must come out as heterosexual to their parents, each met with shock and horror and outrage. It’s humorous for its apparent absurdity, but it’s a key point of the film: if straight people don’t have to come out, then why should gay people?

It’s a theme that’s more pronounced in the novel on which the film is based, Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Here, each of the protagonist Simon’s straight friends has a secret and by the end, each has ‘come out’ in their own way. Simon’s own coming out is, of course, filled with drama – it wouldn’t be an exciting read otherwise – but it’s just one of many secrets to be uncovered over the course of the plot.

By comparison, Love, Simon is a more straightforward coming out film that tweaks details of the novel to suit its own refined narrative. Set in an American high school in modern day, the titular Simon has embarked on a secret gay romance over email with an anonymous lover – but who is the mysterious Blue? More to the point, will his coming out have the dramatic effect on his friends, family and colleagues that he expects and fears?

Director Greg Berlanti is no stranger to teen drama and it’s remarkable that the film brings so much freshness to such an obvious genre. Each generation has their representative teen high school movie: The Breakfast Club, American Pie, Mean Girls. Love, Simon matches that canon, effortlessly capturing the present day experience of high school. Sure, it has the same locker-filled corridors, cliques and canteen politics, but it’s a far more progressive, open and diverse film than others in the past. And in Simon (Nick Robinson, in brilliantly relatable form) we have a new teen hero.

It’s absolutely crammed with hilarious moments. There’s feisty drama teacher Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell) who dryly criticises during rehearsals for the school production of Cabaret, but proves to be fiercely protective of the students in crisis. Vice Principal Mr. Worth (Tony Hale) awkwardly tries to be down with the kids, but his heart is in the right place. The only ‘out’ student is Ethan (Clark Moore), who offers some of the sassiest comebacks, yet he's grown a thick skin owing to a difficult home life. And there are dream sequences and asides that will have you absolutely howling with laughter – they’re not to be spoiled here. It’s a film that’s not afraid to be sassy and bold and heart-warming all at the same time, all tied together with a pulsing dream-pop soundtrack that’s worth listening to alone.

It’s also utterly moving and tender. Once Simon is forced to come out, the reaction from his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) is beautifully done. Garner in particular offers a truly sensitive performance. In its denouement, though, the film does lean slightly towards sentimentality with a cutesy setpiece and a neat ending that ties everything together. For all its drama and mystery, the film is something of an aspirational fantasy full of overtly supportive characters.

And yet, it still manages to capture the nervous uneasiness of coming out amongst all the fuzziness, the tears, and the wonderful comedy. In fact, there’s so much heart here that you can’t help but overlook any flaws. Few films are as gloriously uplifting as this.


Watch: Love, Simon is released on April 6th.