“you can exhale now, Simon”
Coming off a strong year where the LGBT-community could boast in some proud releases, the 2018 season begins with more of an exhibition in learning, than a production of lasting effect. Love, Simon, a moving tender opus blue without the competence of writing or character development, weirdly manages to be so forgettable that it achieves perhaps the exact effect intended in boring the audience into accepting the normalcy of “coming out.” As David Sims (The Atlantic) notes: “[its] the kind of movie you could easily catch up with on cable TV years later and forget just as quickly—but even that’s a kind of step forward.”
A step forward indeed, but I am again (see this and this) forced to celebrate this progress in expansion of narrative diversity by impressing on the learning opportunity, having little else to celebrate. Benjamin Lee (The Guardian) gets it: “there’s an almost educational significance for a wider audience in its well-orchestrated portrayal of the specific and intricate difficulties of being a gay teen.” Sure, this is important, which is why I even hesitated to offer a review having no desire to discourage the importance of seeing the film and considering the foreign concept for most that gay teens must undergo in their fears regarding how people will react. In this sense, there is a sad comparisons in our culture today regarding the fear of coming out and the fear of reporting sexual harassment and being fired the day after.
That said, in its plagiarism of better films, Love, Simon doesn’t match any of them: in writing (Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker), falling short of the creative sharpness of Kelly Fremon Craig’s Edge of Seventeen; in music, falling short of Pretty in Pink or even Kings of Summer; or, in acting, falling way short of Lady Bird or the brilliant supporting performance by Ezra Miller in Perks of Being a Wallflower (who resembled the character played by Clark Moore, who essentially played no purpose besides being the cliché token gay). And let’s not even try comparing Logan Miller to Jon Cryer. For people unfamiliar with the great high school films, Love, Simon may feel like something special. But for the rest of us, it almost feels like growing up in the 21st century and finally seeing Woody Allen’s Bananas and being bored because the jokes have become recycled ad nauseam. Of course, don’t tell that to Brian Truitt (USA TODAY) who compares this “truly excellent” film to something reminiscent of John Hughes, instead of Degrassi.
I won’t even go into the poor casting decision of having Jennifer Gardner and Josh Duhamel together as some ploy for Christmas rom-com nostalgia, the nauseating Gossip Girl overlays, and that last scene where Gardner tries to add a poignant moment that screams of incompetent writing in comparison with James Ivory & Michael Stuhlbarg (in CMBYN) delivering a truly impactful moment of acceptance.
It really is a shame that Love, Simon couldn’t be better, especially given the significance of the film in becoming the “first studio-made, teen-targeted romantic comedy to focus on a closeted gay protagonist coming out in high school.” As Tre’Vell Anderson writes: “[t]he fact that Fox [Studios] chose to lean into the film’s identity is a step in the right direction as the industry continues diversifying its stories and the people responsible for telling them.” There will hopefully come a time when LGBT-themed films will no longer enjoy the grace period of inflated reviews based on subject matter and have to fend for themselves in creating genuinely quality works like Call Me By Your Name. Reviews like the type offered by Sheila O’Malley; whom, while correctly noticing the significance of the single best line of the film (“[y]ou can exhale now, Simon”), have an exhausting and unseemly preference for everything (see her reviews). Same goes for Peter Debruge, who likewise trips over O’Malley in rushing to be the first to congratulate every politically correct idea despite his seeming ability to recognize how average the movie is: describing how Love, Simon is “an important first, even if the movie is pretty much average in all other respects.” Pretty much average means pretty much average, you don’t need to give it participation credit to get press invites to the next cast party for This Is Us. Or maybe you do, I wouldn’t know.
As Dan Schindel (The Film Stage) writes, while “undeniably a good thing that [Love, Simon] exists . . . I just hope that it paves the way for [something] better . . . down the line.”