After the success of films like Moonlight and last year’s Call Me by Your Name, a new wave of LGBTQ-focused films are beginning to hit the horizon. These films have existed for quite awhile now, but in the case of Love, Simon, it’ll mark the first major studio film on the subject matter.
When talking about a film focusing on the topic of LGBTQ relationships, it’s unheard of to mention one that the general public seems to acknowledge. What I’m trying to say is that despite the increasing number of films on the subject matter, there had yet to be a major, studio-backed film on a gay romance. Most films, like 2016’s Moonlight and last year’s Call Me by Your Name, received a limited release in theaters, primarily to capitalize on Oscar season. There was no talk or mention of giant production companies that would back these kinds of films at all. Enter 20th Century Fox, with their distribution of the 2018 romance comedy-drama, Love, Simon.
Being marketed as the first major studio film to focus on a same-sex relationship, Love, Simon has already etched its name into film history with its milestone achievement. With the film being set for a wide release this weekend, Love, Simon will be a true test to find out if the general audience will willingly check out a film of this type. But how does the film measure up in terms of its overall quality? The reviews for the film have been overwhelmingly positive, so it has a great start to its weekend. But is the film worth seeing for just its achievement or the benefits of the film itself?
Just Like You
Love, Simon, based on the book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, starts off with our main character, Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), introducing himself to the audience. Simon, as he himself puts it, is just an average kid in high school, with a loving family, a group of entertaining and caring friends and an overall positive outlook on life. However, he has a big secret that he’s been hiding: he is gay. Fortunately for him, an anonymous classmate is also gay and the two begin to bond over their mutual insecurities and love of Oreo’s. It’s at this point where Simon becomes determined to find out the identity of his secret pen pal, all while juggling school, friends and family.
Yes, it’s just an average everyday story about an average kid looking for his pen pal. I say the word ‘average’ a lot and that’s because it’s the best way to describe the film’s story: average. It’s as relatively average as just about any other major studio romance comedy that one can think of. Despite its subject matter, there’s next to nothing that seems remotely creative about the film’s story and execution. It’s a mundane story about an online romance that’s set to the backdrop of what appears to be every high school that has ever appeared in a teenage comedy. There’s no attempt to make the film appear to be its own thing and it unfortunately falls into the veins of every single average and conventional rom-com. Its subject matter may be different, but the bland execution of what could’ve been a smart and incredibly compelling romance comedy dumbs down the potential to be truly special.
One Big Secret
If ever there was a saving grace for Love, Simon, it’s the leading performance from the film’s star, Nick Robinson. As Simon, Robinson offers a sweet, fun-loving and very charming presence to Simon’s character. There’s a vulnerability to him that makes him easy to sympathize with, even if his character is otherwise fairly underwritten. Robinson takes the weak writing of his character and transforms it into an entertaining and ultimately endearing teenager, making the audience root for his cause in a natural manner that doesn’t involve pandering. Not that the film doesn’t pander, but Robinson still makes up for it with his watchable and charismatic performance.
Beyond that, the only other remotely entertaining and memorable characters come in the form of Simon’s overly emotional jokester of a dad (Josh Duhamel) and his hilariously entertaining drama teacher, Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell). Though both don’t get too much screentime, they play their parts well and offer some genuine moments of hilarity and emotion that trump most of the film’s otherwise manipulated moments. Duhamel, in particular, shines in a scene towards the third half that proves to arguably be the most emotional moment of the film, which brings a load of depth to a film that desperately needed it. They may only be supporting players here, but they’re far from the weak spots of the film.
The weak spots, unfortunately, were Simon’s group of friends, played by 13 Reasons Why‘s Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. Each scene involving them was robbed of its potential due to their incredibly unconvincing performances. There doesn’t appear to be anything natural about how they act or speak, making the film drag on as a result. Langford picks it up in the film’s final act, but the performances could’ve benefited from extra takes and firmer direction.
Not to mention, the writing for each of these characters was about as shallow as the infant’s side of the pool. It’s not something I can blame the actors for all the way, because it’s next to impossible to work with what feels like first draft editions of side characters. Their conflict with Simon towards the end of the second act also feels somewhat detrimental to their characters, as they get incredibly rude towards Simon, despite knowing the context of what he did (no spoilers). Overall, they come across as unlikable and selfish jerks, even though the film wants us to sympathize with them. Well I don’t. They’re poorly written characters that don’t receive any life from the actors’ performances and prove to be the weakest links of Love, Simon.
The biggest issue with Love, Simon is not its subject matter, which I don’t personally believe deserves to be labeled as a fair point of criticism. It’s long overdue for a major studio to finally back a film like Love, Simon and it would be unfair to criticize a film just for disagreeing with its politics. I agree wholeheartedly on the film’s message. However, I do NOT agree with just how unaware and unintentionally ignorant the film ended up being. Rather than crafting a respectable and well-made film on the subject matter, the filmmakers behind the film opted to go with the easiest option and just write everything to be incredibly black and white, like characters and plot points.
For example, regarding Simon as a character, there doesn’t seem to be much underneath the surface in terms of actual character. In fact, this may be a little harsh, but it feels as though the writers wanted to write him as ‘Gay Person: The Character.’ The film doesn’t focus on what Simon likes or how he is as a human being, so much as it tries to tie his identity to his sexual preference, not letting us see him as a human being with complex emotions and ideals. The human mind is a tricky web of contradictions and ideals, but Love, Simon takes its subject matter and saturates it with a sense of shallowness that prevents the film from offering something thought-provoking, or dare I say, risky in its presentation. The filmmakers, or studio, I don’t know which one, seem to think that the general audience wouldn’t be able to comprehend or accept a film with challenging questions on its LGBTQ topic, all the while being fun and charming at the same time. Instead, it’s dumbed down to a degree that is unfortunate, given its timely subject matter.
When Get Out was released last year, the film worked in the sense that Jordan Peele took an interesting approach in tackling ‘liberal racism’, which not only made the film feel unique, but offered an interesting commentary on the dangers of quiet racism. It’s also an incredibly entertaining film that appealed to almost anybody. Love, Simon had that same potential, albeit for a different genre, but what we got was a bland, melodramatic rom-com that, despite being about a topic not usually touched on in a major studio film, was unfortunately safe and unaware of its lack of a compelling story and its incredibly underwritten characters that, to me, did not add anything positive to the subject matter. It’s far from a bad film, but in no way did this live up to its massive potential.
Despite my obvious criticism for it, I still do encourage audiences to check out the film this weekend. Why check it out, even though I just sort of tore into the film a few paragraphs back? It goes like this: at the end of the day, the studios will only listen to the audience’s money. It’s not anything shocking, but it’s the truth and I think that if we all go to see Love, Simon at the cinema, it’ll give studios more incentive to back these kinds of films on the regular. This is the first major studio film based on a same-sex relationship and I think it’s our job to tell the studios that we should get more films on these topics in the future. Whether one likes it or not, Love, Simon will serve as a trailblazer for these films in the future. Let’s just hope this one is successful enough to fund projects that’ll do more with the topic than Love, Simon did.
Final Verdict: 5/10
Love, Simon is out now on a wide release in theaters.