It shouldn’t have taken this long. By now, we should have had a bona-fide classic, a couple of duds and a lot of mediocrities in the middle. But it’s 2018, and Love, Simon is the first major high school movie and romantic comedy with a gay protagonist.
That means there’s a lot of pressure on this movie to succeed. But Love, Simon – based on a YA novel – strolls in confidently like it’s been here before, telling a story that’s been told plenty of times before, just not like this, and rarely this well.
Nick Robinson plays Simon. He’s shown plenty of spark before (especially in the criminally underrated Kings of Summer), but this is his best role to date, showing all of Simon’s uncertainty and anxiety. That Simon isn’t tortured internally or externally, but rather experiencing the normal trials and tribulations of being a teenager, makes the film feel important without drawing attention to itself.
Simon’s coming out journey begins on his high school’s gossip-y message board, where a student going by Blue comes out to his classmates. Realizing there’s finally someone he can talk to, Simon emails him and their back-and-forth turns into a deep, intimate connection. One trick the film employs is to have the voiceover of Blue’s responses read by the various boys Simon has a crush on, a very literal projection of his feelings.
When he accidentally stays logged into his Gmail account on a library computer, his classmate and overbearing co-star Martin (Logan Miller) blackmails him to try to get closer to Simon’s new friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp). It’s my least favorite aspect of the movie, but leads to some truly wonderful (and wonderfully awkward) scenes.
The movie is so in-tune with being a teenager in 2018 that it’s a bit of a bummer that a good chunk of the third act feels contrived. To get Simon to his lowest and most vulnerable point, it forces characters to act unnaturally, in a way that seems like the writers creating one more challenge for Simon to overcome.
But mostly, this is a wildly successful teen rom-com that would make John Hughes and Nora Ephron proud. Yes, it indulges in some clichés, borrows liberally from '90s movies (including You've Got Mail, 10 Things I Hate About You and Never Been Kissed) and features teachers who are so outsized and comfortable with their students that their conversations would get them called before the school board. But it’s so winning, finding the right balance of humor and emotion, that it’s destined for the High School Movie Hall of Fame.