Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Love, Simon: A Review


Representation is all the rage these days.

We see it with Crazy Rich Asians, which has been feted (correctly, I think) for its all-Asian cast.  We see it with A Wrinkle in Time, which has been feted (to varying degrees of success) for its casting of a biracial female lead character and a multicultural cast. We see it with the television show Doctor Who, which has been feted (horrendously in my view) for casting a Female in a role that has been male for 50+ years.

We even have a female Predator, which appears to some to be a landmark equal to the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment.

We see 'representation' everywhere in terms of casting women, people of color, LGBT actors/actresses, females of color, and LGBT characters of all ethnic backgrounds. I have long-argued that so long as a role does not specifically call for a particular ethnicity/gender, it should be open to a wider casting. Perhaps this is why I do not see a female King Lear (Glenda Jackson be damned).

Sometimes it gets to the point of parody; in Spider-Man: Homecoming, for example, while it was good to see a more ethnically diverse Queens, one began to wonder if Peter Parker was the only white male in the borough.

Now we have Love, Simon, a film feted for being a young adult romantic comedy with a gay lead character. I've heard it compared to a John Hughes movie (which, curiously, are now seen as 'problematic' and 'bigoted', so I wonder if that's a good thing).  I've heard it called a landmark in cinema.

After having seen it, I just wonder, 'were all teen romantic comedies this dopey'?

Image result for love simonSimon Spier (Nick Robinson) tells us he's just like us: with successful parents, a bedroom larger than my office, appropriately multicultural friends and a daily iced coffee habit.

At this point, I'd like to say that 'iced coffee' is a crime against humanity.  Coffee should always be hot, but I'm not one to dump on these hip Millennials.

Anyway, Simon is pretty average save for one thing: he's a closeted gay young man.

This fact is one he keeps to himself, until on Creek Secrets, a blog for his high school, there's a post from "Blue", another closeted teen male.  Using the pseudonym 'Jacques', Simon writes to Blue, and they begin exchanging messages.

Simon has fallen in love with Blue despite not knowing who he is (or even if he is, for I guess 'catfishing' did not exist when the book was written). Simon begins to wonder who 'Blue' is.  Could it be Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), teammate to one of Simon's friends, Nick (Jorge Lendenborg, Jr.)?  How about Lyle (Joey Pollari), the hot Waffle House waiter?  Then there's Cal (Miles Heizer), the pianist who is working with Simon and his other friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp) on a high school production of Cabaret.

I'm stopping here again to ask, 'Seriously, Cabaret?'  I could understand The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, or Annie, but what high school chooses as a musical production Cabaret?  I'm surprised they didn't pick Urinetown or The Book of Mormon.

As it stands, the M.C. of High School Cabaret, Martin (Logan Miller) discovers Simon's trove of messages and blackmails him to help Martin woo Abby.  Martin's boorish and generally annoying to bonkers behavior alienate him from everyone, but Simon goes along with this.

Image result for love simonThis requires Simon to manipulate his friends like chess pieces to keep his secret.  However, after Martin publicly humiliates himself when revealing his unrequited love to an uninterested Abby, he decides the best way to get the school to stop laughing at him is to out Simon.

This does not go over well with everyone: Simon's friends feel betrayed by how he tried to manipulate him, the other students either shun him or mock him, and Simon's revelations scare off Blue.

Simon opts to come out to his parents, his father Jack (Josh Duhamel), a former jock, accepts him more slowly than his patriarchy-protesting mother Emily (Jennifer Garner). With Simon formally out but still not adopting a different personality, he posts one last message on Creek Secrets: he will ride the Ferris Wheel and asks Blue to reveal himself by riding alongside him.

In the end, Blue reveals himself and they share a kiss to the cheers of their fellow classmates.

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Yes, as much as I try I just end up getting caught up in details when reviewing films.  In Crazy Rich Asians, I got hung up on the fact that an economics professor never heard of the Singapore version of the Rockefeller/Buffet family.  In Tomb Raider, I got hung up on the fact that a secret room undiscovered for seven years was cleaner than my bedroom.

With Love, Simon, I get hung up on the idea that a high school would think Cabaret is the perfect high school musical.  Seriously, who the Hell does Cabaret in high school?!

What I found surprising in Love, Simon is how unrealistic it is.  If the film had been set in the 1980s or even 1990s, Simon's secret would be more surprising and coming out more courageous.  However, at a time when teens have seen same-sex weddings and when LGBT characters proliferate television screens in excess of their actual percentage of the overall population (6.4% to 4.5%), it seems odd for Simon or Blue to be as closeted as they are; from Teen Wolf to among others, Gotham, Doctor Who and the failed spin-off Class, Star Trek: Discovery, Glee, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Fosters, Game of Thrones, and frankly far too many to list, it seems almost bonkers to think any of our teens would be shocked by Simon's sexuality.

As a side note, director Greg Berlanti also oversees the so-called 'Arrowverse', a set of comic-book based shows, each of which has at least one major LGBT character.  Again, with a large number of LGBT characters on television, would today's teens really find a gay student the subject of scandal?

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Love, Simon also has some quite surprisingly bad moments, most of them involving Miller's Martin (and as a side note, I found the whole 'Simon left his emails open' bit highly contrived).  Meant as a 'wacky' and clueless character, Martin comes across as both unrealistic and genuinely insane.  No amount of kowtowing to teen film tropes makes the mascot interrupting the National Anthem to make a wild love declaration funny or real.

Curiously, the actual mystery of Blue seems more a plot device than a real search, and I never thought that Simon really fell in love with Blue.  When Blue finally unmasks himself, it is someone whom the film forgot about for a long stretch, and while it isn't surprising, it does make one wonder why Simon couldn't put it together.

How many black Jewish guys could there possibly be at his high school?

I also didn't understand why no one wondered if Simon wasn't gay.  He has more female friends than male friends.  His room is filled with rather poetic art.  He has sleepovers with his female BFF.  Granted, it's been decades since I was a teen, but all this made me wonder why there wasn't speculation beforehand.

Also, it might be my background, but I know my parents would never allow a sleepover with a female even if she had been my BFF since elementary.

Love, Simon has positives.  The scenes between Simon and his parents are moving and close to real, with surprisingly good turns from Garner and Duhamel.  As Simon, Nick Robinson had a somewhat weary look on his face, down to where I wondered if Simon got enough sleep.  The real standout was Shipp as Abby, to where I would have preferred a film about her than our rather pleasant, nonthreatening yet blank Simon.

Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell provided comedy as the too-eager-to-fit-in Vice Principal Mr. Worth and the theatrically frustrated Ms. Albright, though why Mr. Worth was wearing a rainbow flag lapel pin is left unanswered.

Love, Simon is not terrible.  It just doesn't seem all that interesting or intelligent. In its defense, those two traits are shared by the title character, so there's that.

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Seriously...a high school production of Cabaret?


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