Arts movie review

‘Love, Simon’ tries too hard to be a chick flick

Why I didn’t enjoy this movie about a closeted gay high schooler

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Jorge Lendeborg (Nick), Nick Robinson (Simon), Alexandra Shipp (Abby), and Katherine Langford (Leah) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s 'Love, Simon.'
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Love, Simon
Directed by Greg Berlanti
Screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger
Starring Nick Robinson
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

It’s been two years since I read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but I can still remember my favorite things about the book. It was funny, sweet, and as unrealistic as any typical high-school-based YA novel. I liked the main character, Simon — whose closeted gayness is the main issue of the book — and the depth of his relationships with other characters. His family was quirky, and his friends and classmates had interactions that weren’t solely dependent on Simon. His love story was interesting, too: one major plot point is Simon’s budding email-catalyzed relationship with the mysterious “Blue,” a classmate who is also hiding his sexual orientation. Simon spends much of the book trying to figure out who Blue is, and in the meantime he learns fictional-teenager basics like (1) don’t lie to keep your secrets and (2) be kind to your little sister  (she was just trying to help).

Anyway, I cheered at the end of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. I may have even cried. So I was excited to watch Love, Simon (the movie adaptation of Simon vs.) last Wednesday. The movie, I hoped, would be a celebration of a book I’d liked, not to mention the positive things that had happened in the two years since I read the book, like the creation of the Stonewall National Monument and the lifting of the ban on the openly transgender serving in the military. The world, on the whole, seems more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, and I was ready for the movie to reflect that.

However, I was disappointed. Though it’s got a good soundtrack and is, at points, hilarious, Love, Simon is riddled with flaws. I can look past the stilted conversation, predictable plot, and one-dimensional sidekicks, but I am undeniably saddened by the biggest mistake of all: leaving the LGBTQ+ out of the film.

Yes, movie Simon lives in a society we are striving towards, where people are accepting of sexual identities (or reprimanded, and then apologetic, for the opposite). But the voices in Love, Simon are depressingly straight. For a movie about a gay teenager, there is a sad lack of gay teenager anywhere.

Perhaps that is an exaggeration. Simon’s love interest, Blue, is played by an actor who identifies as queer; Ethan, a stereotypically effeminate peer, is played by the openly gay Clark Moore. But the expression of those characters is muffled by the underperformance of Nick Robinson, who plays Simon. Robinson seems to have been cast for no reason other than his vague resemblance to Ansel Elgort. And his brother, who came out as gay during the filming of Love, Simon, is probably better at acting straight than Robinson is at acting gay. For the most part, Nick ignores his character’s sexual orientation, even though it is supposed to be the movie’s focus. After admitting that he is gay in the first few frames, and “proving it” by awkwardly interacting with a muscly gardener, Robinson’s Simon treats his sexuality like an extra toe — something that is absolutely there but sadly ignored. He doesn’t appear to actually like boys, much less flirt with them. He hardly has a personality, much less one that was partly formed by his sexual identity. The kiss at the end is odd, and its fakeness is glaring.

So Love, Simon was difficult to watch and far poorer than the book it was adapted from. While I’m happy that Hollywood is diversifying content, addressing current issues, and promoting a culture of acceptance, I’ll have trouble recommending this movie to anyone. It’s been over 2,000 years since men played women in the Greek theatre — you’d think the entertainment industry would have improved much more by now.