LOVE, SIMON (Greg Berlanti)

Love, Simon’s soundtrack provides a window into where the movie comes up short.

This high school coming-of-age story is undeniably important, finally injecting a coming-out tale into the storied lineage of similar movies so plentiful they basically comprise their own genre: from John Hughes’ flicks of lore (Katherine Langford’s costumes harken back to Molly Ringwald’s signature swag) through such modern iterations of note as Easy A and last year’s Lady Bird (the first of its kind to be nominated for Best Picture?).

In between these memorable versions are a litany of forgettable derivations — such as 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen — and they share a problem that also plagues Love, Simon: there’s this unmistakable unbelievability that’s hard to avoid for adult screenwriters attempting to tap into their inner teenager. It’s not the sort of childish pandering that infects kids movies, but authenticity might be the hardest hurdle to clear for such fare.

Yet for much of its duration, Love, Simon is sufficiently heartfelt, tenderhearted, kind, and all-embracing, with ample amounts of empathy showered upon each of its characters, none of whom devolve into shticky stereotypes (though they have their moments). They’re greatly aided by a crackerjack ensemble of faces both familiar and fresh. The former includes Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner playing the customary cooler-than-cool parents, each of whom successfully jerk those tears in their respective BIG EMOTIONAL COME TO JESUS scenes (caps for its predictable “subtlety” (quotes for sarcasm)), and the always-wonderful comic talents of Tony Hale.

Yet it’s the latter, relatively new names that particularly resonate; all the young’uns make a positive impression, but the standouts are Alexandra Shipp, Natasha Rothwell (some may know her as Kelli in HBO’s “Insecure”, but this comic force damn near steals all of her scenes, and arguably the entire movie; “THIS YEAR’S TIFFANY HADDISH” would be the dumbass clickbait sensationalist headline), and of course the titular (and Ansel Elgort lookalike) Nick Robinson, on whose endearing shoulders much of the movie resides. If you don’t feel compelled to watch him nor care about his arc, then there’s not much left to enjoy here. He — and the script — nail the teenage-brand of insecure loneliness, and from the start you can sense his pent-up angst fueled by the dissonance in his public and private identity.

Speaking of identity, Love, Simon lacks enough of a distinct one to make this a truly outstanding entry in this likable genre. The subject makes it stand out from the rest as a landmark, but a bit more of a directorial imprint in terms of style and/or tone (and/or a stylish tone!) on Greg Berlanti’s part would’ve gone a long way.

And here’s where the soundtrack could’ve helped.

Jack Antonoff serves as the credited music supervisor, yet his band The Breeders only contributes four songs, some of which are effectively deployed to establish specific moods, particularly over the opening credits introducing us to Simon’s life. Though the rest of the soundtrack features a bevy of quality tracks (especially “Strawberries and Cigarettes” by Troye Sivan — who’s a dead ringer for supporting player Miles Heizer — and “Love Lies”, which is inexplicably not prominently used in the movie proper; when will music supervisors learn that the teenage Khalid is a PERFECT fit for tales from the crypt known as high school), allowing one band to lend their sound to define the cinemascape could’ve further differentiated Love, Simon from the conventional norm.

(Doing so obviously would’ve drawn parallels to other coming-of-age flicks dominated by single musicians, from Cat Stevens’ Harold and Maude to Simon & Garfunkel’s The Graduate. For the record, in no way am I calling for Love, Simon (no relation to Paul) to have followed their lead by romantically hooking up Simon with an older chap; Call By Your Name already covered that terrain, and it somewhat achieved, courtesy of Sufjan Stevens, what I’m calling for here. Half of me actually wished for more of his Oscar-nominated music, but its sparsity was probably critical to its ultimate success because it emphasized the transient nature of their relationship).

One more thought before I go: When trying to recall other high school coming-of-age movies of this ilk, I realized how the male-dominated ones tend to be much cruder: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Pie, Superbad, etc. I’ll leave it to someone more qualified than yours truly to unpack the optics of this coming-out story veering more towards the established female model, but I would very much like to see a gratuitous take on this genre featuring women. Think Mean Girls meets Girls Trip.

Producers can send the royalties to my PayPal account.

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