Romantic comedy 'Love, Simon,' starring Josh Duhamel, is both groundbreaking and too safe
The unnamed American suburb where "Love, Simon" takes place is as generic as "Call Me By Your Name's" setting of Crema, Italy, is specific. Yet both places prove to be remarkably sunny locales for an earnest teenager to come out as gay.
The first major-studio romantic comedy with a teen protagonist who's closeted, "Love, Simon" is basically a sitcom counterpart to last year's Oscar-nominated "Call Me" - down to the culminating heart-to-heart with a spectacularly affirmative parent. Directed by Greg Berlanti ("Dawson's Creek") and scripted by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker ("This Is Us"), the movie is well-made and likable, without any major missteps. It's also just a little bland.
"Love, Simon," which does include more conflict than the Italy-set romance, isn't exactly "Moonlight," the similarly themed drama that won best picture last year. Simon (Nick Robinson) has doting, liberal-minded parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a supportive, racially integrated set of male and female friends. The boy's upscale home and well-funded, clique-free high school harbor annoyances, but no actual threats.
Simon doesn't fear coming out so much as he resents the need to do so, according to one funny sequence. But he is intrigued when a schoolmate declares himself gay in an anonymous online post. Simon begins to exchange emails with the other kid, known to him as "Blue," under the pseudonym "Jacques." While eagerly speculating on his correspondent's identity, Simon falls for Blue.
Improbably, Simon leaves one of his unsent emails on a shared computer at school. It's found by nerdy, needy Martin (Logan Miller), the movie's closest thing to a villain. Even Martin isn't really malicious. He is, like Simon, a slave to unrequited love - besotted with Simon's pal Abby (Alexandra Shipp), star of the school's awkward production of "Cabaret."
Martin blackmails Simon into maneuvering Abby toward romance. To do this, Simon deceives not just Abby, but also his other buddies, Leah and Nick (Katherine Langford and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., in underwritten roles).
Because Simon is otherwise exemplary, his treachery makes him a bit more interesting. But the boy's betrayal of his pals feels less like a character flaw than a writerly contrivance.
As is typical of high-school movies, "Love, Simon" is stuffed with pop songs, including several by Bleachers, whose lead singer and songwriter Jack Antonoff served as music consultant. Also featured are a few mid-'60s tunes whose inclusion is partly explained by making Simon a vinyl buff with retro tastes. (He dresses up as John Lennon for a Halloween party and at one crucial moment has the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" on his turntable.)
Simon's love for rock of the British Invasion is unpersuasive, but then so are all his passions. Like the movie about him, Simon is pleasant, well-meaning and curiously devoid of adolescent hormonal tumult.