REVIEW: ‘Love, Simon’ is More Than Just Another Teen Movie

by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)

When it comes to teen movies, music is key.

A proper soundtrack helps elevate the emotions that usually run throughout any coming-of-age story (and when adolescent hormones are involved, everything is elevated). It also helps preserve a particularly special movie within the memories of its audience. “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds will forever conjure up the image of Judd Nelson giving a post-detention fist pump at the end of The Breakfast Club. And late-90s surf-rock band (and occasional national punchline) Smash Mouth will forever conjure up images of a geeky Ethan Embry pining for Jennifer Love Hewitt in Can’t Hardly Wait.

The reason why I bring this up first is because Love, Simon, the undeniably charming boy-meets-boy rom-com from director Greg Berlanti, has enlisted Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff to executive produce its soundtrack. The result is a pitch-perfect compilation tailor-made for both Gen Z audiences and those who can clearly remember a time before the Internet — as well as those aforementioned teen classics.

In other words, this is a rare “teen movie” that works beautifully on multiple levels, speaking to audiences across different generations, and the music that accompanies its tender, timeless story is a reflection of this. It appeals to those born at the turn of the twenty-first century, coming of age in a post-Glee world. It hits a nostalgic note for older Millennials and certain GenXers who came of age before #RepresentationMatters (and who can appreciate a fantasy-musical number set to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”). And finally, it acts as a guiding example for parents unsure of how to deal with their child’s sexual identity (Here, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are the model mom and dad — emphasis on model).


 

What about the film itself? First, Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. The Homosapien Agenda, carries the distinction of being the first film from a major studio to feature a gay teen character as a romantic lead. With that comes a lot of expectations — and promise. Thankfully Berlanti, along with writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (This Is Us), have created a feel-good adaptation for the big screen that satisfies on all levels.

The charismatic Nick Robinson stars as the titular Simon Spier, a closeted high school senior who strikes up an online relationship with “Blue,” an anonymous classmate who comes out via the school’s gossip blog. Simon’s email correspondence with the unidentified student eventually ends up in the wrong hands, which leads to blackmail, which leads to lies, which leads to one big mess for several relationships within Simon’s circle of friends — all of whom are the kinds of characters who could be anyone’s friends. And it’s beautifully, color-blindly cast. There’s 13 Reasons Why‘s Katherine Langford as the patient and understanding Leah, Alexandra Shipp as cool new-girl-in-town Abby, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as best bud Nick, Logan Miller as the sleazy-but-redeemable Martin, and Keiynan Lonsdale as the friendly yet hard-to-read Bram. If you’re looking for some comic relief from the faculty of this perfectly diverse high school, there’s VEEP‘s Tony Hale as the vice principal who just wants to be a friend to his students, and Insecure‘s scene-stealing Natasha Rothwell as a drama teacher who has no patience for bullies. Surprisingly, no one is a caricature. The stereotypes aren’t clearly drawn here — and that’s a great thing.

Certain criticism will inevitably fall on the movie’s paint-by-numbers execution and its arguably sanitized portrayal of the coming-out process, but that’s the point of a movie like Love, Simon. It has been given the mainstream, PG-13 teen-romance treatment because, as Simon and the movie gently suggest, gay people have grown up in a heteronormative world (still do), searching within the zeitgeist for role models or any pop culture figures they can relate to. After all, there are only so many times they can watch a girl get the proverbial guy before the closing credits roll on screen. (For further elaboration, check out Aaron Hartzler’s USA Today op-ed on the movie’s potential impact.) That said, it is important to note that Simon is never portrayed as a victim, and the film manages to speak volumes without getting too heavy-handed. Case in point: a scene involving Simon and his mom (Garner) is both heartbreaking and uplifting all at once — without ever treading into Afterschool Special territory.

Love, Simon may appear like any other teen vehicle from the past 25 years, but to use a word that’s being wrapped around this movie, it truly is groundbreaking in its ordinariness. Underneath its casual H&M wardrobe is something special that can’t be ignored. And that’s where the immensely appealing soundtrack comes in, helping audiences of all kinds ultimately embrace the movie’s message about the basic human desire to make a connection. From Walk the Moon’s excellent “Surrender” (as heard in the trailer) to the 80s-tinged “Rollercoaster” and “Wild Heart” by Bleachers, Simon is poised to be preserved within the memories of audiences. Familiar, but presented in a refreshing, engaging way.

We have a new classic on our hands.

About The Author

Hiko Mitsuzuka
Entertainment Editor-at-Large

Hiko Mitsuzuka is a self-proclaimed pop culture connoisseur who resides in L.A. and obsesses over songs months before everyone else obsesses over them. He has worked in TV and commercial production ever since he left his native New York in the early 00s. He has worked at the world-renowned Anonymous Content and Carsey-Werner and freelanced as a treatment writer for award-winning directors as well as a contributing writer for 'Instinct.' In addition to writing about entertainment and travel for 'Bello,' Hiko can currently be seen in the roles of Manager of Creative Planning at Stun Creative (PromaxBDA's North America Agency of the Year, 2013, 2014, 2017), film critic for ScreenPicks.com, and contributor for The Huffington Post. He's also currently working on the novel 'Slasher Movie Girl.' His obsessions include quoting old sitcom dialogue and stalking people on Instagram. His vices include chocolate chip cookies and movie theater popcorn. Tweet him @TheFirstEcho.

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