Maybe it’s too easy to say “Love, Simon” feels like a 21st century John Hughes high school movie — a really good John Hughes high school movie — but I can’t tell you it feels like anything else, because you know what?
It feels like a 21st century John Hughes high school movie.
From the comfortable suburban setting to the likable protagonist, from the intelligent teenagers to the warm and well-meaning but sometimes out-of-touch adults, from the slices of high school classroom life to the pivotal party scene, from the secret crushes to the Big Moments when long-hidden truths are revealed — all of it set to a pop soundtrack — “Love, Simon” is clearly a cinematic descendant of John Hughes High.
Only with a much more diverse cast than we saw in films such as “16 Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — and also, the smart and charismatic and conflicted 17-year-old lead character in “Love, Simon” is gay.
Nick Robinson gives a winning performance as Simon, who tells us he’s just an average high school senior living an average high school senior’s life.
It’s a pretty good life. Simon’s parents have been happily married for 20 years and they still look like they’ve toppled off the top of a wedding cake. His father Jack (Josh Duhamel) is a former jock but also a sensitive guy at heart, his mother Emily (Jennifer Garner) is a successful therapist, and his little sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) is an adorable aspiring chef who prepares most of the family meals. Their home practically glows with love.
In a hilarious (and sweet) flashback sequence, Simon explains how as an adolescent he kept having dreams about a certain actor from a certain movie franchise.
That was his awakening, so to speak. Simon has known he’s gay for about four years, but he hasn’t told anyone, not even his family or his three awesome best friends: Leah (Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby (Alexandra Shipp).
Yes, Simon knows his family and his friends will love and accept him no matter what. Still, he really likes his life the way it is right now, and it’s his choice about when and where and how he will come out.
When Simon finally does share his secret with someone, it’s not with his parents or his pals. He opens up to “Blue,” an anonymous classmate who has posted an essay about being gay on the school’s online gossip page, but, like Simon, isn’t ready to come out.
Simon and Blue become email pals, trusting each other and growing ever closer, but still not using their real names and still not meeting in person.
Director Greg Berlanti (working from a sharp and funny screenplay by “This is Us” showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, who adapted the novel by Becky Albertalli) does a nimble job of placing us in Simon’s shoes as he tries to figure out the identity of Blue. Is he the friendly soccer player giving him knowing glances in class? The handsome kid who works at the waffle house? The cute and witty guy playing piano for the school musical?
As the romantic mystery develops, the light comedy keeps us amused. Tony Hale takes what could have been a cliched role as the trying-too-hard-vice-principal and creates someone who is not only funny but genuinely likable. Natasha Rothwell is a scene-stealer as the drama teacher who suffers through the class production of “Cabaret.” Katherine Langford shines as Simon’s best friend, who harbors a secret of her own.
The most problematic character in “Love, Simon” is the obnoxious, pushy and sad Martin (Logan Miller), a social outcast who acts like a bully and has a wildly uneven story arc. Martin’s actions sometimes feel forced and implausible and designed to manipulate the plot. But that’s an isolated stumble in a wonderful, uplifting, endearing, thoroughly entertaining story.
“Life moves pretty fast,” said Ferris Bueller. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
“No matter what, announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying,” says Simon.
If only real-world high school kids had the wisdom and insight and awareness and passion of these movie high school kids.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Greg Berlanti and written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, based on the novel by Becky Albertalli. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying). Running time: 110 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.