Simon Spier's 'secret' is no secret in Love, Simon, the new teen drama from director Greg Berlanti, who helmed the panned 2010 rom-com Life As We Know It. Simon (Nick Robinson) is gay. Everything else about his life is not only intact, but more or less perfect. He's got a loving family, one whose idyllic suburban wealth and happiness approaches the level of parody: dad the former quarterback, mom the former valedictorian, sister the Food Network devotee who whips up lavish meals on exquisite marble kitchen countertops multiple times per day. He's got a multicultural group of pals, a Subaru all his own, and what looks to be a very bright and promising future ahead of him. But he has yet to come out to his family and friends. Simon's coming out — and his relationship with a secret pen pal, Blue — form the basis of the film, which opens Friday in wide release.
The script successfully presents a dual storyline with two equally compelling narrative questions. In the first: When and how will Simon come out to those closest to him? In the second: Who is "Blue," this mysterious correspondent whom he met via the high school's gossip blog?
I have to say I found myself caught up in the various romances and high school dramas orbiting Simon's own — the crushes nursed in secret, the professions of love that fail in spectacular ways, the various solar flares of love and/or its potential that burn so intensely in high school. For this critic, stories of first love are often so much more affecting than stories of love between adults. (With obvious exceptions!) Even though less is generally at stake — it's highly unlikely that the relationships embarked upon will be for life — high schoolers feel everything by orders of magnitude more than their grown-up counterparts. Moments of happiness are literally the best of their lives; moments of defeat are literally the worst.
This is much the case in Love, Simon. In one memorable scene, Simon's theater friend Martin (Logan Miller) interrupts the national anthem at the high school's homecoming game to ask out his crush, Simon's friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp). It's such a grand, awkward gesture, and — watching through my fingers — I found myself sympathizing with everyone involved. Veep's Tony Hale, pitch-perfect as the too-friendly vice principal, delivers one of his many laugh-out-loud lines.
The story itself has moments of implausibility, sure. And in one important development, I didn't buy the treatment of Simon by his friends. Nor did I believe that Simon would be dense enough not to detect a certain budding dynamic with his best friend Leah (Katherine Langford, of 13 Reasons Why). But in general, I was on board. Neither Simon's eventual coming out, nor the discovery of Blue, went in the direction I initially anticipated and I was delighted by a script that resisted the most obvious beats.
That said, this suburban teen drama genre, marked by John Green adaptations and others, is becoming as identifiable as its dystopian kin (the Divergents and Maze Runners and Givers of the world). There are certain trademarks — contemporary alternative music, personal emails presented via voiceover, a "party" scene) which are wearing awfully thin. But given the genre's expectations and limits, I was impressed. To be honest, it struck more of an emotional chord than last year's lovely coming-of-age gay drama Call Me by Your Name. In both films, for the record, the main characters come from immense financial privilege and have 100-percent supportive parents.
The film's stars have local roots as well: Nick Robinson, who plays Simon, broke out in the Cleveland-filmed 2013 indie Kings of Summer. Simon's friend Nick is played by Jorge Lendenbourg, Jr., who debuted as Cisco, the star of Steven Caple Jr.'s 2016 Cleveland flick, The Land.