(out of 5)
Nick Robinson is wonderful as the teenager of the title, outwardly the very picture of east-coast upper-middle-class standards but inwardly dealing with a very big struggle: he’s gay, and while he does not seem to have any internal conflict about it, he feels that telling his family and friends will upset a stable ecosystem of which he is a thriving part. An online posting board that his local peer group contributes to is all the rage at school, full of plenty of gossip and no shortage of faux-Hedda Hopper blind items, and on one particular occasion Simon’s eye is caught by an anonymous confession: a young man posts on the forum that he is gay and is scared to come out. Still unable to talk to the world about who he is and how he feels, Simon instead begins an epistolary relationship with this stranger and, through their communication, they each find themselves developing strength and support (not to mention their own little community) from the experiences they share. Simon looks forward to every message while trying to figure out who this anonymous person is through cringeworthy experiences that can only make the viewer love him more, his quest for what he hopes will be a great romance threatened when when his emails are discovered by a social outcast from the drama department, who blackmails Simon to advance his own goals. Sharply written and delicately directed, this gentle film is a lovely tribute to the spirit of young people and benefits from a terrific cast and a rich sense of humour. Robinson never overplays the character’s isolation, his woes are wholly sympathetic and are made that much more endearing by his closest friends and the spontaneity with which their scenes are performed, while Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel add no small amount of charm as his affectionate and boisterous parents. The story avoids cheap melodrama by giving Simon no obvious, external motivation for his fears, he doesn’t have homophobic parents or live in a conservative, religious town, he actually has no reason to be afraid and yet he is; as his mother tells him in a very lovely scene, there are things about his coming to terms with himself that he must go through alone, and the sensitivity with which this is treated might be the most touching aspect of the film. The dark misery of Beach Rats and the romantic fatalism of Call Me By Your Name are necessary, but seeing the clean, suburban world of Y.A. fiction being given a queer spin is surprisingly very satisfying, more than making up for its being set in the same false (aspirational, let’s say) idea of small town living that hasn’t changed since the days of Andy Hardy.
Directed by Greg Berlanti
Cinematography by John Guleserian
Music by Rob Simonsen
Production Design by Aaron Osborne
Costume Design by Eric Daman
Film Editing by Harry Jierjian