There are certain ageless qualities to high school comedies, comforting patterns that reveal themselves over and over in a genre of movies made specifically for an audience who just wants to be understood. Midway between John Hughes and a Disney Channel Original movie lies Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon, is a tender, funny film that presents a slightly different take on the teen movie.
Berlanti’s adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s debut young adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda begins with our hero, Simon Spier (a quiet, easygoing Nick Robinson), telling the audience how he’s just like us. He lives with his wonderful Land’s End catalog family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play his parents), has a circle of buddies he carpools with, enjoys high school, and generally has a pretty good life. Except for one thing that kinda complicates things: he’s gay, and he has no idea what to do about it.
Spier’s closeted life is interrupted by an anonymous post on his high school’s gossip Tumblr “creeksecrets,” a webpage used by the students to post pretty much whatever they want about themselves or goings-on at their school. (A website designed so that students can anonymously post about themselves or other students? Oh, this’ll go great.) The post, signed with the pseudonym “Blue,” is from a student at the school who is gay, but doesn’t know how to tell anyone. An e-mail address is linked to the post, and Simon immediately contacts Blue, posing as “Jacques,” and confesses that he, too, is gay, and in the same situation. Simon begins to fall for “Blue” as their e-mail exchanges continue throughout the school year, and starts to see the other boy in every new kid he meets, turning his search into a kind of “Who could it be?” Nancy Drew mystery. One particularly fun detail is the bait-and-switch nature of Simon’s detective work: every time he imagines “Blue” in his head, they appear onscreen as the real-life person he thinks they are, until that person proves in some way to not be who he’s searching for.
As the kids in this film are influenced by the movies of their pasts — Simon’s walls, like those of a few other characters in the movie, are full of posters — so is Love, Simon itself influenced by its predecessors. The John Hughes comparisons will come easily — Simon’s best friend Leah (Katherine Langford of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why) even dresses in jean jackets and headbands, and many big moments in the movie are set around a football game, a school dance, a carnival. It’s softer and less biting than something like Easy A, which mercilessly skewers the social conventions of high school movies, but it’s no The Fault in Our Stars either, remaining too funny to settle into melodrama. Instead, Love, Simon comfortably situates itself somewhere in the middle of teen comedy and teen romance. Nothing that happens, aside from what happens at the very end, is incredibly unexpected, and it’s mostly faithful to the formula of films that have come before it — except the difference in this one is the added layer of homosexuality.