Monday, March 19, 2018

Extravagance And Subtlety Go Hand-In-Hand In Love, Simon

Just as many movies about teenagers in the 1980's looked to John Hughes as their creative guiding light, 2010's movies about teenagers turn to John Green for inspiration. Not every single movie about teenagers is like this (The Edge of Seventeen, for instance, isn't really all that reminiscent of Green's works), but it's hard not to see how the author of books like The Fault In Our Stars has influenced modern-day media about the struggles of teenagers, especially in terms of how dialogue spoken by teenage characters is written. I wouldn't want every movie about teenagers to feel like it emerged from the shadow of John Green, but The Fault In Our Stars was an extremely well-done motion picture, so I say there are worse films that movies like Love, Simon could be emulating.

With it's cast of teenage characters constantly dropping dialogue filled with both jaded cynicism and wry pop-culture references, Love, Simon is a movie very much made in the mold of John Green's works, but with a major twist: unlike John Green's novels, or any prior American teenage romantic drama, Love, Simon is about a same-sex relationship. Specifically, it's about Simon Spier (Nick Robison), a 17-year-old High School student who knows he's gay but is too afraid to come out of the closet to anyone, even his closest friends and family members. He finally tells someone else about his sexual orientation when he learns of a kid from his high school who has made a post online under the code name Blue that, like Nick, he's gay and keeping it a secret from everyone in his life.

Nick begins e-mailing Blue on a regular basis under the name Jacques and the two begin to develop a bond centered around sharing their own experiences with coming into their sexuality. They may not know each other's real identities, but they find comfort in knowing they're not going through all of this alone. Since this is High School after all, plenty of drama unfolds as Nick comes to terms with how to come out of the closet to the ones he loves and keeping his sexuality a secret until he actually feels ready to come out. It's a story that, as penned by screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, may be simple & formulaic in a number of ways, while also containing a number of attempts in to generate laughs or relevancy to the "kids these days" that end up feeling like they were written by Tony Hale's cringingly "hip" Vice-Principal character. 

But there's also an interesting paradox at work in Love, Simon that works like gangbusters. This is not a movie afraid of doing big splashy emotional scenes but it's also not afraid to pair those grandiose elements with more muted and surprisingly realistic moments. Most notably, Nick first coming out to one of his friends is played in a stripped-down manner when it comes to dialogue. The to-the-point manner in which Nick communicates, for the first time of his own choosing, about his sexuality feels like it came straight out of real life. Using more subdued camerawork and removing any external score or accompanying music in this specific scene heighten the reality of this pivotal moment and makes it absorbing to watch.

Those aforementioned big splashy emotional scenes tend to have those kinds of realistic elements to them too, perhaps explaining why sequences seemingly contrasting in aesthetic (specifically, the aesthetic of realism vs. the aesthetic of extravagant) work so well, to the point that I found myself getting choked up in a number of crucial poignant sections of Simon's journey. The impassioned moments of pathos are where Love, Simon really excels, though it should aos be pointed out that the script is also skilled at using the movies frequently overt nature to make explicit, either by dialogue or on-screen actions, aspects of the LGBTQA+ experience that most movies may only hint at if they even recognize such aspects exist at all. 

In addition to offering a unique perspective in the world of teenage romantic dramas, Love, Simon also offers up a chance for a number of young actors to turn in worthwhile performances under the solid direction of director Greg Berlanti. Most notably, Nick Robinson, who hadn't left all that much of an impression on me in his past work in Jurassic World and The 5th Wave, is remarkable as Simon, he does a great job of making Simon a well-realized person and not just a collection of tired stereotypes. Among the actors playing Simon's trio of High School friends, the best of them may be Alexandra Shipp as Abby, she's got some hilarious line deliveries and aces as a key touching moment between herself and Simon. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are both around as Simon's parents and both get about as much to do as parent figures usually do in teenage-led stories, though they both certainly come through when the time comes for their characters to engage in their own individual " big splashy emotional scenes".

While gussied up in a tone, dialogue style and a soundtrack crammed with modern-day pop tunes (me being a total music ignoramus, I, of course, rarely recognized any of the apparently massively popular songs the characters frequently jam out to) that seem straight out of a John Green penned tale, Love, Simon's devotion to humanizing the internal experiences of gay teenagers with surprising insight and even nuance (the latter element emerging from contrasting Simon's experiences with another openly gay student at his school) ensures that it has it's own identity to speak of. That devotion also gives Love, Simon a heart so big it might as well belong to the reformed version of the Grinch. Good luck watching Love, Simon and not falling head over heels for all of it's heartfelt goodness.

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