New in the multiplexes this week:
Love, Simon--The title character is an upper-middle-class suburban kid with a loving, supportive family, adoring friends and a bright future. The angst in this teen-angst comedy-drama comes from Simon's self-described "huge-ass secret": he's gay.
Simon (Nick Robinson) exchanges anonymous blog posts with "Blue," another closeted kid at his school, and gradually falls in love with him, as he tries to figure out which of various "suspects" Blue might be. Meanwhile an obnoxious classmate (Logan Miller) stumbles upon Simon's secret and uses it to blackmail our hero into playing matchmaker with Simon's friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp), even though his pal Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is also in love with her. Simon capitulates, and wacky but painful complications ensue.
If these plot mechanics sound contrived, that's how they came across to me, as well. Those of us who haven't had to face the prospect of such a disclosure ourselves might naively wonder why a well-adjusted, well-protected, principled kid like Simon is so leery of coming out to his family and friends in this day and age. Even allowing for this country's reactionary social ugliness of the last year or two, it seems like such a revelation isn't remotely the earthshaking crisis it would have been even a decade ago, at least in Simon's class and domestic circumstances.
Indeed, the script, by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (from a novel by Becky Albertalli), gives Simon some narration addressing his reluctance in amusing terms--his resentment, for instance, that straight kids don't have to come out. But the performance of Nick Robinson makes this gratuitous. Lightly, with no histrionics, Robinson gets across a wary melancholia and tension under the surface of Simon's quiet good nature. He makes us understand what a huge-ass deal it would be to define one's identity in a non-default category, regardless of support system.
Beyond Robinson's excellence, Love, Simon is a fairly typical teen stuff, briskly directed by Greg Berlanti and pleasantly acted by an attractive cast. Jennifer Garner has become quite adept at playing sensible, gently fretful suburban moms, and she's effective again here, while Josh Duhamel is believable as Simon's softie dad. As is so often the case in movies of this sort, the high school staff roles are used as opportunities for goofball character actors, in this case Tony Hale as the anti-cell-phone crusader principal and Natasha Rothwell in a terrific turn as the wound-up director of the school play.
The writing is a bit facile at times, like when Simon assures us that he and his friends do what anybody does, like watching "bad '90s movies." This seems less a reflection of what kids actually do nowadays than of filmmakers who want to use cultural references from their own youths rather than that of their characters.
But in a sense, the conventional, by-the-numbers aspects of this movie are what make it significant. I'm far from trying to suggest that LGBT people have attained anything resembling full social acceptance, of course. But when I imagine how mainstream American audiences would have reacted thirty, twenty or even ten years ago to a movie that ended with two high-school boys sharing a romantic kiss, as opposed to the routine way it was received by the screening audience with whom I saw this film, it's hard not to feel that a real shift in attitude has occurred. Love, Simon is no big deal, and that's kind of a big deal.