MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Greg Berlanti. Starring Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a teenage romantic comedy that wore its heart on its sleeve, full of love for its characters. (2015’s The DUFF was probably the last.) Back in the 1980s, John Hughes was cranking them out like crazy. Fortunately, director Greg Berlanti remembers those films and has intentionally brought the genre up-to-date, using the bestselling YA book Simon and the Home Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli as his source material.
What’s changed in the thirty years after Sixteen Candles? A few things. It’s a digital world now and social media and interconnectivity is a constant presence. The opportunity for online discussion creates both a safe place to talk about yourself anonymously and a dangerous place for online bullying and the spillover into the school cafeteria. And there is now a growing acceptance of a variety of sexual identities with younger adults and teens that was openly shunned in the 80s, although the risk of coming out as LGBTQ to family and friends is still present (and the United Methodist Church’s attempt to find a way forward is perhaps one of the most controversial movements in recent church history).
Simon Spier (Robinson) enjoys being part of a loving family as well as a tight-knit group of supportive friends, but he is struggling with his feelings of same-sex attraction. When an anonymous student (who calls himself “Blue”) writes a post on the school’s message board that he is afraid to come out as gay, Simon sees an opportunity to connect with a kindred spirit. Simon begins to send Blue emails, taking on the name of “Jacques”. This sets in motion plot complications as well as a number of great conversation starters for families. How do you keep an important part of yourself secret from the people you care about? How can this information (discovered by another immature student) be used to blackmail and manipulate a person into doing things that could compromise other relationships? Love, Simon finds the comic possibilities of this uncomfortable situation while also caring for all of its characters. Youth are allowed to be immature and also intelligent, and parents are seen as loving and sometimes clueless. Simon’s father, Jack (Josh Duhamel), the doofus dad, is regrettably the weakest character; Jennifer Garner fares a bit better as Emily, the mom.
Love, Simon dances around its sex talk, cutting dialogue just seconds away from saying something harsh. The big topic of this film is not sex at all but love and friendship. Why can’t we live in a world where we can be kind to one another? “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). I hope that this film eventually finds a wider audience, for it is funny, wise, and kind. This movie is like a good friend; you will enjoy hanging out with it for two hours.
Four halos: A film about friendship and sexual identity that is compassionate and inclusive.
Two pitchfork: PG-13 swearing, but not pervasive; some teen binge drinking; mild sex talk, unafraid of mentioning masturbation; bullying.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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