Film Review: Love, Simon

There is a predictability to the film industry that is as regular and reassuring as clockwork. You can guarantee that each year will start off with hard-hitting stories that are baiting the upcoming awards season. This will be followed up by school holidays littered with CGI comic book adventures before Christmas arrives with a huge blockbuster release. All padded out and supported by a foundation of franchise follow-ups and happy-go-lucky tales of growing old (dis)gracefully staring the elder statesmen of Hollywood.

You can also be sure that the high school uniforms will out in force. Every year, the already flooded genre of “American Teenage Coming of Age Tales” will get reworked to reflect the changing world and attitudes we now inhabit. Whether it’s through the dark seriousness of Cruel Intentions, the introspective search of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower or just the warm plagiarism of She’s All That – to name just three – the genre has been providing comedic examination and explanation, to reassure and guide, ever since, this one time, at band camp…

But 2018 looks to be shaking things up. Greta Gerwig set the ball rolling with the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, looking at the mother/daughter relationship through a style that, finally, feels independent and real, detached from the stereotypical and glossy false realism that underpins so many of the genre. And Greg Berlanti has attempted to continue that detachment from the norm with Love, Simon, the cinematic outing of Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda. The tale of, unsurprisingly, Simon and his one big, huge, secret that has, potentially, the power to shape a generation.

Sadly though, the first thing that hits you about Love, Simon is just how much the visual styling returns to the clichéd stereotypes the genre demands. The characters, and the world they live in, are all too shiny. Everything is just too clean and too perfect. It feels brand new, like a staged world, where rubbish doesn’t exist, and the weather picked purely to match the mood. Even the makeup of the characters, while visually diverse, are underpinned by personalities that feel forced together to meet expectations and tick boxes. The film even goes as far as to point this out; the opening monologue speaking of just how much the people in this world are all too perfect to be true. It’s as if the film is unsubtly trying to say, “I’ve got a very important message to speak about, but I’m having to hide it under a blanket of false imagery, sorry”.

And that’s such a shame. Love, Simon is attempting to bring power to the struggles of acceptance and equality. To question what sexuality really means and how the prejudices, that plague society, stop too many from being who they really. To open a closed door in a mainstream debate. But doing so, in such a shiny wrapper, just dilutes the message. I couldn’t relax into the film because I couldn’t shake the feeling that, however much I wanted to believe in the story, the world just doesn’t work this way, opinions don’t change this quickly and children aren’t so openly accepting of differences. This is a genre can inspire the lives of the very people it claims to portray, but Love Simon forgets this. It’s touching on a group of people who are the most vulnerable, but it’s missed that vulnerability.

This sticking to the acceptable, cliched, normality even extends into the soundtrack. I’m glad it didn’t feel the need to belittle it’s subject with a sexually diverse backing track that was littered with Queen, Elton and George, but it needed more than just the monotonous, high school pop culture they’ve used instead. Music plays such an important role in real life, in helping to shape and define sexuality, that for it to be ignored so blandly, actually stood out above the story at times.

Sadly, Love, Simon is just an extended version of the trailer. It pads out the story with a few other questions and thoughts, but ultimately, it just sticks to the predefined, linear route of the 2-minute preview. I haven’t read the book on which it’s based (I didn’t even know it was based on a book until I started writing this review) but what little-unseen action the film brings, falls flat. It is uninspiring and nothing new and whilst, I never bored, my mind certainly taken into their world, I was just left me a bit numb by it all. Worse of all though is the ending. I won’t give it away, but it must be stated, I truly detested it. It turned me completely against Simon and left me just wanting to scream “You hypocrite” at the screen very loudly.

Love, Simon attempted to tackle a fundamentally scary, huge, and potentially life-changing topic. Speaking directly to those most at risk. But it fluffed its lines by conforming to an imagery and style that feels too removed from real life to carry the strength of that message. I’m sure huge numbers of people will flock to see it, hoping it’s more than it turns out to be. In the future, I think rather than turning into the cult classic it could have been, it’ll simply become nothing more than background noise. It’s the Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, The Fault In Our Stars – a pleasant story but lost from memory before the credits have finished rolling.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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