[Screen It]


(2018) (Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford) (PG-13)

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Drama: A closeted high school senior tries to figure out when and how he'll come out to his family and friends, all while contending with a classmate who's blackmailing him regarding his hidden sexuality.
Simon Spier (NICK ROBINSON) is an average high school senior who lives with his parents, Jack (JOSH DUHAMEL) and Emily (JENNIFER GARNER), and younger sister, Nora (TALITHA BATEMAN). And he has a close circle of friends in Leah Burke (KATHERINE LANGFORD), Nick Eisner (JORGE LENDEBORG JR.) and Abby Suso (ALEXANDRA SHIPP), the latter of whom only recently transferred to their school where Mr. Worth (TONY HALE) is a very hands-on and involved administrator and Ms. Albright (NATASHA ROTHWELL) is the occasionally stressed theater teacher who's trying to stage a high school production of "Cabaret."

But unlike classmate Ethan (CLARK MOORE) who's openly gay and must contend with daily taunts by some school bullies, Simon has yet to come out of the closet to anyone. That is, in person, as he's befriended an anonymous fellow classmate on the school's social media site. Giving himself the moniker of Jacques, Simon wonders about the identity of his new friend "Blue" as he begins to believe he's falling in love with this person who also states he's gay.

That comes to a head when another classmate, Martin Addison (LOGAN MILLER), comes across their exchanges on a school computer. Wanting to hook up with Abby, Martin blackmails Simon by saying he'll out him if he doesn't help make that happen. Wanting to come out on his own terms but still uncertain about how or when he'll do so, Simon reluctantly goes along with Martin's demands. That puts stress on him and his relationships with his friends and family, all while he tries to figure out Blue's real identity.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
While they obviously still face challenges, prejudice and sometimes outright hatred like other minority groups, young people who make up the LGBTQ community don't know how good they have it compared to their older predecessors. For instance, I don't believe there were any openly gay or bi students at my high school (1,000+ students) when I now know for a fact (through various means, including being friends on Facebook) that they were indeed present.

Back then, coming out a young age was social suicide (and sometimes worse), so nearly everyone had to stay closeted and pretend to be straight. And while various singers and actors were known or rumored to be gay, there weren't any mainstream TV shows or movies where they were the main characters.

Flash forward to the 2010s and, shockingly enough since broadcast TV already broached the subject years before that, there still hadn't been a major studio release where the central protagonist was gay (movies like 2017's "Call Me By Your Name" and 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," as examples, were released by the art house divisions of Sony and Universal respectively).

Well, that now all changes with "Love, Simon," a romantic dramedy from 20th Century Fox. Based on Becky Albertalli's 2015 young adult novel, "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," the film revolves around our title character (completely sympathetically played by Nick Robinson) who knows he's gay but has yet to come out to his family (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner as his parents, Talitha Bateman as his younger, precocious sister) or friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. making up his inner circle).

He figuratively and at one point in the film literally imagines doing so once he's in what he believes will be a more accepting college world, but otherwise pretty much seems resigned to keeping his secret, well, secret until after graduating from high school.

But then he "meets" another gay classmate, albeit virtually and via text only, on his school's social media site. Sensing a kindred spirit who's the only person who really gets him, he finds himself falling for "Blue" (a protective nickname, just as Simon goes by the moniker of "Jacques") as their exchanges continue.

Unfortunately for him, a somewhat jerky student, Martin (Logan Miller), comes across this exchange. Ever the opportunist, he blackmails Simon into helping him be able to date Abby (Shipp) or else he'll publically out him. And thus Simon must pile on additional lies on top of his sexual identity ruse, all of which we know will eventually upset his high school experience applecart.

In terms of movies about students in high school and dealing with various pressures, and notwithstanding the sexual orientation angle, there's not much new here that we haven't seen in countless other similar films.

Yet, there's something about the way in which scribes Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger have adapted Albertalli's written work and director Greg Berlanti has arranged all of it, along with engaging performances from the cast, that makes the whole thing endearing and sometimes emotionally touching.

And that's even when some of the material occasionally stumbles into feeling like a fabricated sitcom (as compared to "Call Me By Your Name" that felt organic and true to itself through and through). It's not egregious enough to be bothersome, but it is noticeable when it occurs, and didn't really need to be included. I'm guessing it was in the misguided belief that possibly uptight straight viewers might thus be more comfortable watching a story with a gay lead character.

While not ground-breaking in any way outside of being the first offering from a major studio to feature just that, "Love, Simon" is nonetheless an engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking film about what it's like to have to hide one's sexual identity even in today's seemingly more enlightened age. It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed February 20, 2018 / Posted March 16, 2018

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