Love, Simon suffers from two main problems that probably won’t stop it from being an important movie to the people for whom it’s made. For those people, I speculate, it’ll function as an effective movie about the struggles of being a closeted gay teenager. It’ll offer hope and comfort and make them feel like they’re not alone, even though that’s very possible. All teenagers, at some point or another, feel that way—and it’s even worse if you’re not part of the majority in whatever aspect. Its ultimate thesis, that gay people should be treated the same as straight people, isn’t wrong, and hearing it from a mainstream-ish movie is just going to affirm that in those who need to hear it most. In that respect, it’s important.
The movie is about Simon (Nick Robinson), who begins the movie with narration about how he’s just like us, except he has a secret: he’s gay. He actually doesn’t say “gay,” until much later in the movie; that’s part of his struggle. Saying it out loud can be difficult, even if it’s to oneself. He has a normal group of friends, they do normal things, etc. On the school gossip blog, an anonymous poster says he’s gay. Simon emails him, and their correspondence makes up a significant portion of the film.
Mostly, it allows the movie to develop Simon through voice-over narration, because he gets to espouse his feelings about everything to this anonymous person. Narration is often kind of a lazy filmmaking technique—it’s going against the “show, don’t tell” philosophy—and it feels a little bit overused here. His friends are more interesting, overall, as a result. And the film does a better job of letting us get to know them naturally, not through this forced narration.
One of the reasons we do get to know them is because someone finds out about Simon’s correspondence and threatens to leak the information if he doesn’t, in effect, mess around with his friends’ lives. So we get to see them, see how he influences them—through their likes, dislikes, and personalities—and therefore get to understand them better than Simon, which is an odd position in which to be. But this lead’s to the film’s first problem.
I wish Love, Simon were a great high school movie. It’s just an okay one.
Simon does bad things to them—slight, but still bad—and by the time the film wants to be its most emotional, when we’re supposed to feel bad for our protagonist, we’ve got this cloud over him. What happens to him is bad, too, but we’ve just spent dozens of minutes watching him systematically harm the people closest to him. And when we’re supposed to treat him like anyone else, that makes it hard to feel particularly sorry for him. Too bad, Simon. Maybe don’t act like a jerk to people.
Its other problem stems from the way that, after it redelivers its message—Jennifer Garner plays his mother and gives him a speech about treating him just like she always has, reaffirming its purpose—the movie spends the rest of its time, save for one scene, harping on about his sexual orientation. If you want to treat Simon as just another person, a bolder move would have been to actually do that, as a movie, instead of saying it’s what should be done and then refusing to do it yourself. That would’ve been more poignant, I think. Practice what you preach.
Most of the movie leading up to that point is about him hiding his secret. Once it’s out—and you know it’s getting out—if the film largely moved on from it and began to treat him as just another teenager, wouldn’t that have been a more powerful message? I suppose we need closure with the whole email correspondence—which happens in a cliché, predictable manner—but outside of that? We only get it for one scene. It takes away some of the power of the message.
Outside of those two somewhat big issues? It’s decent. The acting is good, there’s just enough humor to give us an occasional chuckle, it’s got a good heart—even if the execution might not be the best—and I do genuinely think it’ll help some people who watch it. Representation matters, and if you see someone in a movie going through something you’re dealing with, it can help you out. I wish Love, Simon were a great high school movie. It’s just an okay one—a passable watch if it doesn’t speak to you.
Conclusion: Love, Simon might mean more to someone who’s in a similar situation to its protagonist; if you’re not, it’s a decent watch but nothing more.
Recommendation: If it sounds like something that will resonate with you, definitely give it a watch.