Growing up in the 1980s, I was obsessed with the teen movies of writer-director John Hughes, from “Sixteen Candles” through “Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and more. They helped millions of adolescents like me navigate the rough waters of the teenage years by giving us characters we could relate to and feel understood while seeing high school crises get solved in under two hours.
But there surprisingly has never been a major-release gay romance movie for teens until now. That historic landmark was bridged last weekend when the film “Love, Simon” hit theatres, telling the story of an appealing and handsome teenager who is forced by clashing circumstances to come out of the closet unexpectedly, with multiple impacts on his life as a result.
It’s a terrific movie with a great, star-making performance by Nick Robinson, who manages to create a kid with all-American appeal and who’s gay without being “that gay,” as he himself puts it. “Simon” also pulls off the impressive feat of making a landmark statement without ever feeling like it’s preaching at viewers.
The film opens with Simon describing his life in voiceover narration to the viewer, showing his suburban life with perfect progressive parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and younger sister as well as a trio of friends who ride with him to school each day. His best friend secretly harbors passionate feelings for him, but Simon’s romantic life consists of brief fake relationships with girls and gazing at a cute gardener working across the street from his home.
Simon plans to remain closeted until he can go away to college, but his plans are upended when a blog that his classmates use to share anonymous gossip features a note from a fellow student admitting he’s secretly gay. Simon reaches out to connect with him and soon they’re writing constantly, sharing a growing interest while each remains afraid to face the real world openly.
But when a fellow classmate stumbles across Simon’s correspondence with his mysterious contact and blackmails him, his life is turned upside down. The resulting complications are interesting, original and handled with emotional depth by director Greg Berlanti, who takes the reins after building a career as one of TV’s top producers with several DC superhero series on the CW network.
Some might be surprised that I enjoyed “Love, Simon” so much after utterly despising the recent Best Picture nominee “Call Me By Your Name,” which featured a gay romance between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man. The difference is that this movie features a teenage protagonist looking for love with someone who’s also a teen, while “Call Me” featured an utterly creepy pair of leads who made the pedophilic aspects of the story worse by appearing to be 12 and 35 years old, and also were having sex with females at the same times as carrying on their affair
Berlanti is proudly and openly gay himself, and has previously dealt with the minefields of teenage emotions as one of the key figures behind the long-running hit show “Dawson’s Creek.” Building off a script by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker that adapted the hit Young Adult novel “Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” he has crafted a film that will inspire empathy for gay teens, shows family and friends dealing with the surprising news in positive ways, and embolden them to realize they don’t need to hide and possibly even save some lives.
“‘Simon’ Says Love”: A
Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams
Length: 100 minutes
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
A very funny and endlessly inventive comic mystery that follows three bland yet highly competitive suburban couples who find themselves racing against time to save one’s brother when their game night takes a comically dangerous turn. Bateman and McAdams are a match made in heaven, an onscreen team who need to do many more films together. Grade:A
A WRINKLE IN TIME
Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Length: 109 minutes
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
This embarrassing misfire reveals why it took 50 years to film this timeless children’s-lit classic: it makes no sense on the big screen, especially when the novel’s Christian allegory is ground into New Age claptrap. Pretty to look at, but utterly incomprehensible and boring. Oprah Winfrey really needs to demand better hair and makeup: she looks like RuPaul crossed with an Oompah Loompah. Grade:D
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Alex Garland
Natalie Portman delivers an effective blend of emotions and ass-kicking as she leads a team of female scientist-soldiers into a mysterious forcefield, trying to save humanity and find what killed her husband on a prior mission into the void. Fascinating and scary until the final half-hour, when a series of stupid scenes nearly ruin the film. Grade: C
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan
Length: 134 minutes
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
The first major superhero movie centered on an African-American character debuted to record box office and is a rocket blast of fun, with the Afrocentric perspective infusing freshness into everything from music and costuming to narrative point of view and reinvigorating a genre that was in danger of being shopworn. Grade: A
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones
Length: 130 minutes
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s latest epic fantasy leads the Oscar race with 13 well-deserved nominations. Sally Hawkins delivers a uniquely silent performance as a meek mute woman who works as a janitor in an early-1960s government facility and falls for the mysterious creature that scientists are studying and about to kill. Achingly romantic, beautifully shot, and downright exciting, this is as close to perfect as movies get.