Saturday 17 March 2018

Review: Love, Simon

Love, Simon
Cert: 12A / 110 mins / Dir. Greg Berlanti / Trailer

Full disclosure: I wasn't originally going to watch this.

Now, I try to be a good liberal, I really do. Long-term readers will know that my political views (when I occasionally dip into them here) are progressive and the rolling news-feed of the last three years has given me a near permanent stress-headache. Similarly, I like to try and keep my movie-watching as open and inclusive as possible, as I've found great stories in unexpected places while I've been writing this blog*1. But I saw the trailer for Love, Simon a few weeks ago. Its theatrically earnest approach to social and personal angst neatly packaged in emoji-shaped avocado-snowflakes for millennial viewers brought back memories of how angry I got during The Fault In Our Stars and Me Before You. Thus I surmised that this was not going to be the film for me. Fair play.

Then on Tuesday evening, I sat down with a not-inconsiderable number of fellow cinephiles, eager to sample the mystery cinematic goodness of the latest Cineworld Unlimited Secret Screening™, the chain's sporadic series of turn-up-and-see previews. The house-lights went down, the BBFC card came up, and the film's title was displayed to all. Fair play*2. Naturally, I decided to give the movie a crack of the whip anyway, because as a 21st century, teenage coming-out story, Love, Simon is clearly going to have some resonance for our times, and be a contemporary frame for the challenges which younger marginalised groups face on a daily basis. I try to be a good liberal and I'd at least want to like this.

Yet at the same time, it would be an affront to my position as an honest movie reviewer if I didn't say that the first hour or so was one of the most mawkish, toe-curlingly excruciating experiences of my entire life.

That would be those parts of the hour which I didn't miss by rolling my eyes so hard I ended up looking at my own brain. Our eponymous hero (Nick Robinson) is a 17yr old who listens to 80s synth-pop in his car and plays The Kinks on vinyl at home, struggling with the concept of coming out as gay since he's such a hetero-hipster that the rest of the gay community would instantly and rightfully disown him. From his first fumbling flirtations with the gardener (don't worry, that's not expanded upon), Simon's world-view is challenged when one of his contemporaries comes out anonymously, via the school's online messageboard*3. As he enters into an ongoing e-mail exchange with the author, Simon can't work out if he's falling in love or just infatuated - or if the difference even matters. Which is fine, in principle.

But all of this is communicated by a script which comes off like fortune-cookie platitudes have being emptied out of a scrabble bag, then assembled by someone who might well know one gay person, but has never met any teenagers. Not even when they were a teenager. From his overly-sympathetic hippy mother (Jennifer Garner) to his loveable-jock of a father (Josh Duhamel) to his function-free cardboard cutout of a younger sister (Talitha Batemen), nothing in Simon's home life rings remotely true.

Outside of this nauseating family, any sense of intended realism immediately drops through the floor because this a certificate 12A, so none of the kids sneer or swear the way that actual teenagers do. This level of artifice carries over the entire film. While Simon is barely bearable, everyone else is irritating in escalating measure to the point where you think things can't get any worse. Then Tony 'Buster Bluth' Hale blows them all out of the water by playing the sort of school vice-principal who would be murdered by the other teachers before first-break, never mind the students.

And so the story lurches from one obscenely twee suburban exchange to the next, like a Frankenstein's Screenplay fashioned from offcuts of High School Musical*4 and The Secret Diary Of Gaydrian Mole. A chance bit of 'not signing out of the e-mail account specifically created for covertly conversing with the only gay person Simon knows' means that our hero's secret is picked up by a classmate who proceeds to blackmail him. Not because the guy's a homophobe, just because he's a cretin and thinks Simon can put a word in for him with a girl he likes. Simon goes along with this in a half-hearted manner and gets sick of it in the same lacklustre fashion.

And then suddenly, the third-act drama kicks in, the protagonist is unwillingly outed (by the cretin) to his school and family, and Love, Simon becomes a pretty good film (albeit still a heavy-handed one). This could be because the central themes broaden in both their focus and execution, or it could be because that's when the screenplay has more to focus on than patronising its cast and audience. The tension as Simon's hand is forced in developing the confidence he'll need for the future is one of basic human emotions; anger, shame, trust, acceptance. Scenes with his family which should be all rights be cloying are handled with a sense of reassurance, and there's the thought that this section of the film is where the real life-lessons lie.

Then there's just time for ten minutes of reverting to cinematic type. The 'making-up' of high school friendships awkwardly does the rounds and culminates in Simon's emotional blackmailing of his e-mail-writing friend, effectively forcing him to out himself in front of everyone or continue living in secrecy and its associated shame. Because it didn't do Simon any harm and these are the kind of sweeping generalisations the film is happy to make in its closing moments. Delightful.

In an age where films like Moonlight and Lady Bird exist, Love, Simon adds little of substance to the cultural zeitgeist. And it doesn't even do that well.

I try to be a good liberal, but that doesn't mean passively accepting anything with "issues!" stickered on the box in massive letters.

And as much as I may have taken against Love, Simon, at least I'm not the two guys who walked out five minutes into the movie when they realised what it was going to be about. Or the guy who left alone five minutes after that...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
If you enjoyed The Fault In Our Stars then you'll probably be thoroughly engrossed by this.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
This is not a £10+ film.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, tops.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I doubt I'll have the strength to argue about it, but let's see.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's not.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Jennifer Garner's in this, and she was in 2009's The Invention Of Lying alongside Fionnula 'Catarine Towani' Flanagan.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The Greatest Showman can do one, though. As can Fifty Shades. Got to draw the line somewhere. [ BACK ]
*2 I'll be honest I was expecting Tomb Raider. That film was out on general release the next day anyway, but Cineworld have previously previewed Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes less than 48 hours before it was due out. But I digress. [ BACK ]

*3 Do these school-specific sites even exist in the age of Facebook? Or is it another thing made up by someone in their forties who thinks they're down with the kids? I ask that as someone in their forties who has neither the time nor patience to be down with the kids. [ BACK ]

*4 Oh, and massive props to the movie for still including a fantasy song-and-dance number, when it's very evident that our leading actor Can. Not. Dance. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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