Love, Simon a refreshing rom-com

It’s long overdue but finally, we’ve got there – a mainstream Hollywood rom-com with an LGBT character in the title role. While films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name might draw huge attention come awards season, their audiences are small and their box office minimal.

Love, Simon sets out to change all of that – packaging its progressive message into a tight, Hollywood-styled rom-com that is far more likely to appeal to wide audiences. And, thankfully, it’s not bad.

The film follows Simon Spiers, a teen with a secret – he’s gay. After finding out someone else at his school is in a similar situation, Simon starts emailing back and forth with his secret pen pal – ‘Blue’ – until a fellow student gets a hold of the emails, and threatens to ‘out’ Simon to the school.

Relative newcomer Nick Robinson plays Simon, and he’s a perfect fit for the role; the right amount awkward and endearing. I expect to see a lot more of him in the coming years. Surrounding him is a who’s who from teen television, including 13 Reasons Why break-out Katherine Langford. Sadly, although Robinson excels in the lead role, most of the supporting cast are generally forgettable and lack a lot of depth. However, much of this comes down to scripting, rather than the performances of the cast. For example, Langford could be playing the same character she did in 13 Reasons Why, and the rest of Simon’s friends are all fairly mundane as well. While the only real stars in the film are Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, who do an admirable job of playing Simon’s wholesomely normal parents, the true stand-outs are Natasha Rothwell as drama teacher, Ms Albright, and Veep’s Tony Hale as the high chool’s principal.

The subject matter at the heart of Love, Simon makes the film something of a landmark. However, in many ways, it is a deeply ordinary picture. It’s still a rom-com – it’s filled with all the schmaltzy, sugar-coated optimism that is a requisite for the genre. And while that’s exactly what rom-com fanatics will be hoping for, I couldn’t help but find it slightly disappointing. For such a timely film, it would have been nice for it to use its mainstream platform to tackle social issues with a bit more forcefulness, rather than follow the generic rom-com pattern that is so overly familiar.

It’s not that the film is shallow – it doesn’t hold back when discussing the importance of coming out – it just felt a bit coy, like there was more that could have been said. Regardless, it’s still pleasing to see a gay character leading a Hollywood film, and there is definitely hope that it has opened the doors for future films that can take the issues deeper.

Personal qualms aside, Love, Simon is a lot of fun to watch. While it skimps on the deeper issues, it succeeds as both a romance and a comedy, being laugh-out-loud funny throughout while not letting down those who are seeking some sentimentality. It’s filled with warmth and positivity, which is kind of what we all need at the movies sometimes, right?

Let’s just hope Love, Simon opens the floodgates, so that films like this won’t be remembered just for the sexuality of their leads.

Reviewed by Stewart Sowman-Lund.

4 small stars