Friday, March 9, 2018

Berlanti/Berger/Aptaker's LOVE, SIMON proves a groundbreaking mainstream surprise

As much of a breakthrough in its own way as was Brokeback Mountain in its, LOVE, SIMON -- the new teenage rom-com from screen-writers Elizabeth Berger and Issac Aptaker (based upon a novel by Becky Albertalli) and director Greg Berlanti (shown below) -- does something that TrustMovies did not expect to see happen in his own lifetime. That would be the full-out nationwide release by a major studio (20th Century Fox, deserving of kudos for bravery) of an absolutely mainstream, feel-good romantic comedy that, by its finale, sends the audience out the doors cheering and applauding.

So? What's new about that? Well, the titular Simon is gay, and yet just everything that Julia Roberts ended up with in all her early rom-coms, along with just about any and every hero/heroine of every teen rom-com you can think of got in theirs, is gladly given to our Simon. Sure, there have been a number of small indie films that have addressed gay issues in rom-com, feel-good ways. But there has been nothing as remotely mainstream/big-budget/wide-release as this movie.

Further, there's no life-destroying angst that ends in sickness, suicide or murder here. No horrendous bullying from peers that lays waste to GLBT lives. Nope. Just the usual funny, feel-good, sure-they've-problems-but-they-can-still-work-it-all-out rom-com plot machinations. And when, at the joyous climax and the even-better denouement, everything is (as we used to say in the old days) SWAK, these moments are going to resonate with certain audiences like nothing they've yet been allowed to experience in a mainstream film.

What is even odder about Love, Simon is that -- groundbreaking as it is -- it is nothing approaching a great film. Instead, it's a perfectly serviceable example of a cute, smart, well-made rom-com. Nicely-acted (that's Nick Robinson, in the title role, above and below, left, with Katherine Langford, who plays his erstwhile best friend), written with a pretty good ear for both teen chatter and adult lingo, and directed with enough poise and energy to easily get us from first scene to last, the film's effects are likely to sneak up on you.

As the complications in our hero's life, as well as those of his several friends (and even one fellow who could be perceived as an enemy) pile up, we begin to understand and feel what it is like for these kids to try to negotiate high school -- even when it is shown as sweetly and in the generally positive way it is here.

Sure, there are a few missteps now and then: Early on, Simon's attempt to strike up a conversation with a hunky landscape worker falls flat (and more because it seems unbelievable than anything else), while the rendition of the school administrator (or maybe counselor) is simply too broadly imagined, despite the very game attempt from that fine actor, Tony Hale.

Overall, these are minor compared with how well the film captures its leading and supporting characters, each of whom is brought to fine and believable life by a raft of good young performers. In the roles of Simon's smart and loving family members (shown below, from left to right, next to Robinson) are Talitha Bateman as his younger sister, Jennifer Garner as his mom and Josh Duhamel as his dad, all of whom are just fine. Duhamel, in particular, gets a lovely scene with his son near movie's end.

While I consistently enjoyed Love, Simon, it was not until the finale that it hit me just how unusual and special the movie was. Here, in this public preview screening, along with what I can only assume was a fairly typical South Florida audience who were laughing, caring and finally applauding just like me, it suddenly seemed that -- movie-wise, at least -- some kind of parity had finally been achieved.

From 20th Century Fox and running 109 minutes, the film opens across the entire country next Friday, March 16. Click here to find the theaters closest to you.

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