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Movie review: ‘Love, Simon’ tenderly explores the human landscape

Love, Simon; Rated PG-13; 109 min

By Chris Honoré

for Revels

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is 17 years old, a senior in high school who has a close circle of friends, loving parents, to include a younger sister, a home in the affluent ’burbs, and is living with a secret that has nudged him since he was 13: He’s gay.

As is made clear in the setup to “Love, Simon,” he is faced with a dilemma, one that causes him daily anguish and uncertainty — how to disclose his truth to his family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), his friends, and ultimately all of his high school peers.

We learn of his personal struggle as Simon discovers online a fellow traveler who calls himself “Blue.” Simon assumes he is a student at his high school, a kindred spirit who is uncertain about how to reveal his own sexual identity.

With Blue, Simon can share the emotional cul-de-sac that he finds himself in, aka “the closet.” For both Blue and Simon, leaving the geography of that small room would mean crossing a line, one that is fraught with risk, for it means confronting an inherent and formidable cultural taboo. This is precarious territory, most especially for adolescents who are ever vigilant to all the cues that society delineates when it comes to what is “normal” and “acceptable.”

Simon realizes that to remain in the closet is to live his life as a lie, pretending to be one person while knowing he is someone else. He wants to push open that door, to step out as himself, yet he feels the terrifying weight that he will be judged and rejected for the person he knows himself to be. It is a weight that can seem, at times, unbearable, a fact that he shares with Blue but no one else. And then there is the question of Blue’s identity, for their rapport increases in proportion to their online honesty.

The template that the writers use for Simon’s journey is actually that of a high school romance absent a closet. Embedded in the narrative is the fact that heterosexuality is a powerful norm and is what’s expected. There is no closet to emerge from, no moment when an adolescent must sit down with his or her parent(s) and declare they are attracted to the opposite sex.

In a perfect world, there would be no closet. No need to dissemble, or finally “come out” to parents or peers, no need to face that reveal with heart-stopping trepidation, a moment framed by courage and the abiding hope that acceptance and love will be the reaction to a whispered plea – “accept me for who I am, not for who you think I am.”

But, of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, hence Simon must constantly remind himself to just breathe as he carries his secret forward, day after day, one that defines and torments him.

While “Love, Simon” is tenderly done, it also is constructed in a way to give Simon a soft landing, and the film offers him a most gentle way to solve and then resolve his inner struggle. His parents and his close circle of friends are remarkably decent, kind and caring. His peers astonishingly nonplussed.

“Love, Simon” could have been a much harsher film regarding the reactions of those he deeply cares about, as well as the kids in the hall. And the outcome of his reveal might have gone in a far more painful direction. There is a moment in the film that does show overt bullying and profound insensitivity, in the high school cafeteria of all places; however, it is quickly quashed by a rescuing teacher, one who minces no words, and that scene does not define ultimate outcomes nor result in Simon’s worst fears becoming realized.

Adolescence can be a precarious, cruel place, one often rigidly judgmental and at times deeply hurtful, especially since one’s identity is always in flux and insecurities ever-present. There is often an absence of tolerance if differences wander too far from what are regarded as the comfortable conventions. Fear haunts the darkest corners of an adolescent’s life, and feeling conflicted is a thread that is woven into most young lives. Just ask Holden.

“Love, Simon” is a wonderful film, nicely told, with a fine ensemble, led by Robinson. It’s no small thing to find actors who can sustain a youthful naturalness while delivering superb portrayals, each scene ripe with verisimilitude.

For many reasons, in spite of its glossy patina, this is a film worth finding, if only to encourage Hollywood to explore further this very human landscape.