Teen movies have long been a safe bastion for queer viewers, offering plucky heroes who exude a society-be-damned confidence – think of 'Clueless’'s Cher Horowitz stomping through her high school’s halls. And while gay teens may worship the hyperstylised attitudes of these paragons, they’re often left out when it comes to young same-sex love onscreen. Fortunately, 'Love, Simon' has arrived just in time to step up its genre’s game: Though lacking the memorable culture-drenched bitchiness of its forebears, the film sticks the landing as a sweet, serious high-school romance.
Simon (Nick Robinson) is a nice-looking everyteen with preening parents and an active social life, but his pen-pal flirtation at school with an anonymous boy, known only as Blue, may threaten to expose him and upend his closest relationships. 'Love, Simon' is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda', which reads like a flat Tumblr post, feigning the eye-rolling angst of a Molly Ringwald movie. But this adaptation punches up the verve, eagerly matching the concurrent terror and glee of coming out.
Using a set of skills honed from producing loud US TV hits like 'Riverdale', director Greg Berlanti morphs the book’s flimsy mystery about Blue’s identity into a pop dream in which cute boys abound. Though Berlanti’s fabulously high-budget set pieces carry the movie, they never derail into camp. This is Simon’s story, and it stays on his level. Gay audiences may be exhausted by movies about death and shame, but they’re even more suspicious of a happy ending built on pandering wish-fulfillment.
Robinson’s thoughtful, reactive performance keeps the character challenging without losing his appeal. Playing his parents are Jennifer Garner – this had better be her last turn as a suburban mom; she’s way too talented for that – along with ultimate daddy fantasy Josh Duhamel. With strong soundtrack picks and a committed cast, 'Love, Simon' feels lived-in and self-assured, two traits its fans will want to adopt as well.