That may not sound like high praise. Surely the caliber of humanity and innovation common of the features constituting the slate of queer cinema would be preferable company to a film whose inciting incident involves teenage DJ Qualls having his exposed penis mangled by a senile librarian. And no, I don’t mean to insinuate some long unheralded intellectual grandeur in the high-school farces of the turn of the millennium. Zero punches pulled: these movies aren’t great. And neither is Love, Simon. That’s what makes it so important.
Love, Simon is rather cute, though manages to squeeze some pulp from its emotional through-line. (In other words, it’s better than The New Guy.) But the film’s full-bodied lean into the high school rom-com genre gives way to a nosedive straight into all the cheesy, corny, and contrived trappings thereof.
It doesn’t take long to hit these depths, either, energized no doubt by director Greg Berlanti’s background working on high school dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Everwood and romantic comedies films The Broken Hearts Club and Life as We Know It, ditto screenwriting pair Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker’s tenure on the likes of This Is Us and the About a Boy TV series. The film kicks off with high school senior Simon Spier falling head over heels for an anonymous new pen pal who is likewise living in the closet. On the one hand, the storyline rings empathetic to anyone who’s experienced the pangs of isolation that accompany the deprivation of a romantic outlet. On the other, the premise keeps in step with the genre’s long history of effusive but flimsy love-at-first-sight stories, with Can’t Hardly Wait and EuroTrip springing first to mind.
Resolved to safeguard his personal secret, Simon picks up a torch that’s passed through the hands of Freddie Prinze Jr., Drew Barrymore, and Melissa Joan Hart before him, weaving an evermore entangled web of lies that ensnares one unsuspecting friend after the other. Along the way, we get the obligatory episodes of locker-side collusion, indulgent house partying, and, ultimately, minor chord-backed melodramatic speeches when Simon is crushed beneath the weight of his bad choices in a decidedly Hitch-like fashion. Don’t worry: It’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a sweeping romantic display in the grand tradition of Heath Ledger on those bleachers -- the sort that is charming in context but, from a distance, just seems kind of nuts. But to call any and all of this a failing on the part of Love, Simon is to miss the mark by a mile.