By Gregg Shapiro
Photo: 20th Century Fox, Ben Rothstein
At first glance, you might not think that gay director Greg Berlanti’s 2018 gay rom-com(ing out movie) “Love, Simon” (Fox 2000) has much in common with the Oscar-nominated 2017 gay rom-dram “Call Me By Your Name,” but you’d be wrong. First of all, both films are based on novels. “Love, Simon” is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 Y/A novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” while “Call Me By Your Name” is based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman. Additionally, both novelists are, as it turns out, straight.
Just wait, there’s more. Simon and Elio, the lead characters in each movie, are 17 years old. They are both sexually awkward and coming to terms with being gay. They also have parents that, ultimately, embrace and support them. In the case of Simon (Nick Robinson), his valedictorian mom Emily (Jennifer Garner), who is now a therapist, and his former quarterback dad Jack (Josh Duhamel), have made a loving home for him and his kitchen whiz kid sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) in suburban Atlanta.
So, where’s the conflict? It’s 2018, there are 208 days left until graduation, and Simon is in the closet! Not that there aren’t other gay kids at his high school. But watching gay classmate Ethan (Clark Moore) being relentlessly bullied and harassed by some of the jocks makes Simon visibly uncomfortable. You can see him cringing. Also, initially unaware of Simon’s sexuality, his father Jack tends to make insensitive remarks.
As for his social circle, including longtime best friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), as well as Abby (Alexandra Shipp), they are among the generation for whom being gay is a non-issue. But that doesn’t make it any easier for Simon.
Things take an interesting turn when Simon begins communicating anonymously via email with a fellow classmate, going by the handle Blue, who comes out in a blog post. It sets the stage for Simon’s imaginative sleuthing to try to determine which one of his classmates Blue might be.
Unfortunately, their correspondence is discovered on a school library computer by the obnoxious Martin (Logan Miller) who quickly becomes Simon’s nemesis when he begins to blackmail him. This leads to several awkward situations, eventually resulting in a blow-up that could cost Simon everything.
“Love, Simon” strikes a nice balance between the rom and the com, and even adds a powerful dramatic dimension (bring tissue if you are prone to tears). The performances, especially those by Robinson, Garner, Langford, Shipp, and even Duhamel are solid and believable just as teacher Ms. Albright, scene-stealer Natasha Rathwell, brings an abundance of comic relief. Rating: B+