As any nerd will tell you – the movie is never as good as the book.
It’s our mantra, right? And you can just picture it – the girl with the horn rimmed glasses, squinting your direction as you confess you never actually read a Harry Potter book – you’d only ever watched the movies – and wasn’t that good enough? She’ll look at you with disdain, maybe even an eye roll and declare, “Then you really don’t know the full story.”
But then a movie like Love, Simon comes around and well – that old adage goes right out the window.
I confess I was a fan of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (the book Love, Simon is based on) from the first chapter. Becky Albertalli crafts a story of 17 year-old Simon who, by all rights, has a perfectly normal life. Parents that love him, a great relationship with his sister, a fun set of best friends, and is well liked in school. Except that he has one huge secret – he’s gay.
On the outside this secret doesn’t seem to be much of a threat to Simon’s happy existence. As we learn more about his home life and friends, they’re revealed to be loving, accepting individuals. But here’s the crux, here’s where the book and the movie spread a great message loud and clear, one that is missed in many “coming out” stories. Telling the world about your sexuality is so much more than just what people’s reactions will be, accepting or not. It’s about actively changing people’s perception of you with a single sentence. It’s a pill Simon finds is tough to swallow.
The movie begins as Simon comes across an anonymous message on his school’s chat board from another student “Blue”. He has a secret too – they’re also gay. Taking a chance, Simon creates a fake email account and decides to write back to Blue, admitting to his own secret, and signing it “Jacques” (Jacques a dit in French meaning “Simon says”). Blue writes back – and the beginnings of a romance are born.
The rest of the movie winds itself around their correspondences and keeps you guessing the true identity of Blue right until the very end. I’ll be honest, the book had a bit more twists and turns here. If there was one thing in the book but not in the movie I really missed, it was actually reading the messages between Jacques and Blue, watching them slowly fall in love via email. (Alas – two dudes reading emails to each other does not an action packed movie make.) But by the end, when Blue’s true identity is revealed in awesome (and bordering on cliche) teen romance style, as the music hits a crescendo, and all their friends are watching – I heard gasps in the audience around me. And some excited clapping.
(Which I confess filled me with such joy! Naturally I knew who Blue was but hearing my spouse next to me whisper “I knew it!”? Oh, so gratifying!)
Being the true book nerd that I am, I would be remiss to not take a moment to point out a few of the differences between the book and the movie. The biggest for me being characterization of the adults. In the book they aren’t quite as animated as they are in the movie, and they’re a huge source of entertainment. Tony Hale as the Vice Principal who is just trying to kick it with the cool kids had me rolling. Simon’s parents, played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are nuanced and hilarious. Ms. Albright, played by Natasha Rothwell, absolutely steals the show as his theater teacher who, quite frankly, just needs a drink after dealing with those damn kids.
It’s always difficult to see an actor play out a character you’ve pictured in your head so clearly, but the young cast of Love, Simon does a brilliant job of bringing them to life. Alexandra Shipp and Katherine Langford are absolutely enchanting as Abby and Leah, respectively. Watching both of them in these rolls made me cross my fingers that this movie does so well the powers that be will decide to make movies of Albertalli’s next two novels, The Upside of Unrequited (which centers around Abby’s cousin Molly, in which Abby makes an appearance) and the upcoming Leah on the Offbeat (which centers around Leah, coming out next month). Logan Miller beautifully straddles that line between chaotic neutral and neutral evil as Martin. And I truly enjoyed Nick Robinson’s portrayal of Simon. While in print you have the luxury of reading what a character is feeling or thinking, in visual form so much of what was going on in Simon’s head had to be played out in micro expressions, and Nick nailed them. As one character later admits, it was as if Simon had been holding his breath for a long time. And in the end, he can breathe again.
This movie deserves a place alongside the great teenage coming of age romances, and not just because it’s (finally) a story of two boys falling in love. It’s because it does such a wonderful job of portraying those emotions we all have as we transition to adulthood – the struggle between the desire to be accepted, and the desire to just be true to yourself.
Grab a friend or two, grab a popcorn, and make some time this weekend to catch this movie – you’re going to love it!
(And then later – check out the book, too!)