In the opening moments of the heart-warming new gay rom-com “Love Simon,” the title character says, “I deserve a great love story and I want someone to share it with.” Thanks to director Greg Berlanti and his talented team, Simon gets a great love story and gets to share it with us.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a teenager living in the suburbs of Atlanta. He knows he’s gay, but he’s not ready to come out yet. He knows his family and friends will be supportive. The problem is internal; he’s just not ready to embrace that new image of himself. That’s a refreshing take on the familiar coming-out story.
Things start to change when Simon forms an online friendship with a fellow closeted classmate who calls himself “Blue.” Unfortunately, the search for his elusive electronic pen pal gets disrupted when their emails are discovered by another classmate who starts to blackmail Simon. Not surprisingly, everything ends well for Simon, but the journey to the sweet finale is agreeable and inventive.
Robinson’s assured performance provides Simon with a goofy charm and a pleasant physicality. At his best, Simon is thoughtful, clever and affable. But being in the closet also brings out his worst traits. As his frustrated mother (Jennifer Garner) notes, he’s frequently been withdrawn and moody, and under the control of his blackmailer, he thoughtlessly manipulates his friends to help the blackmailer get the girl he wants.
Berlanti, openly gay writer/director of the iconic gay movie “The Broken Hearts Club” and producer of several LGBT-friendly superhero shows currently running on the CW, directs the teen drama with a light and effective touch. His tight collaboration with cinematographer John Guleserian and composer Rob Simonson keeps things moving at a brisk pace that nicely balances the serious and the comic. Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker bring Becky Albertalli’s book to vivid cinematic life; Simon’s casual voice-overs are an especially effective touch.
The supporting cast is strong and interesting, especially Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. Natasha Rothwell nearly steals the show as Ms. Albright, the frustrated director of the school’s dreadful production of “Cabaret.”