Love, Simon

LOVE, SIMON,   US, 2018. Starring Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Tony Hale. Directed by Greg Belanti. 110 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language),

Simon is a 17-year-old high school student, popular, living at home with his devoted parents and his sister (who is determined to be a chef and does a lot of practising in the kitchen). It seems the picture of an ideal family, American style.

But, very soon, it emerges that Simon is deeply preoccupied, a problem about himself, a problem about his identity. He knows that his orientation is gay. However, it is a secret from everyone and he has not thought realistically about coming out.

Love, Simon is based on a book which has the evocative title, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. It is well written, creates characters effectively, some very seriously, some with a touch of caricature. And it invites the audience to identify with Simon, as a person first of all, then with his dilemma about revelation or not and its consequences. While his father is genial, he is also prone to wisecracks and the audience anticipates that he may find Simon’s coming out difficult to cope with. Simon’s mother, however, is a psychologist.

At school, Simon has a very loyal group of friends whom he picks up in his car each morning. There is Leah (Katherine Langford), who is obviously devoted to him. There is Abby (Alexandra Shipp), new to the neighbourhood and to the school. And there are two black friends, Nick and Bram (Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Keiynan Lonsdale, who is an Australian actor), They have classes, do the ordinary things at school, several of them participating in the school production of Cabaret, the MC being played by an annoying school friend, Martin (Logan Miller).

The main comic element in the film, which lightens the seriousness times, is in the personality of the vice principal, Mr Worth (Tony Hale) who is forever in the corridors, commenting on everybody as they pass, especially as he confiscates their phones. He chatters, is friendly with the students – and has to be ready for whatever problems arise.

When word goes around the school that somebody is gay, the reactions are a mixture of acceptance, intolerance, mockery.

The device that the screenplay uses for Simon to act on his struggle is finding an email message from an unidentified student, Blue. Simon impulsively replies, using the code name Jacques. He does get a reply from Blue, then finds himself thoroughly preoccupied at school, in class, at home, at meals, talking with his friends, waiting for messages from Blue. Simon begins to pour out his heart, empathising with Blue, indicating his problems and, impulsively, realising it only after he has pressed “sent” that he has signed his message, Love, Simon.

Blue has his own personal struggles and the screenplay indicates three possible characters who might be Blue.

While the audience is drawn into Simon’s story, hopefully understanding or, if not understanding or, even, disapproving, the film explores the repercussions of coming out. What was difficult in past years is still difficult but the community has, generally, more empathetic response.

Because Simon seems so ordinary in his daily life, the coming out is a surprise for most people. And the film shows how they deal with it, especially because Simon gets entangled with his emotions then, with somebody tapping into his emails, there is always the risk of the unwelcome outing.

Whatever one’s approach to issues of sexual orientation, this is a film well worth seeing and discussing, a testing out one’s moral framework, of one’s emotional response, of empathy and understanding.

Love, Simon is an unexpected cinema invitation for thoughtful response to characters and issues.

Fox                                      Released March 29th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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