‘Love, Simon’ plays its theme for mass appeal

Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson in “Love, Simon”

He’s the driving force behind the dynasty of superhero shows on The CW, but some of producer Greg Berlanti’s best work has been in such quieter dramas as “Everwood” and “Brothers & Sisters.” He’s shown the same knack in several movies he’s made, and he does so again as the director of “Love, Simon,” which obviously has great personal relevance for him if you know his background.

Nick Robinson does a very engaging job in the title role of a high-schooler who is gay and hasn’t come out. He debates whether or not it’s time when a classmate (Logan Miller) threatens to out him – using e-mails Simon has written to an anonymous someone who’s also debating, via the Internet, whether to be open about his lifestyle – unless Simon sets him up romantically with a female friend (Alexandra Shipp).

Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play Simon’s pleasant parents, with Katherine Langford (of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) is another friend. For some viewers who have gone through their own acceptance struggles, most of the characters here may be just a touch too nice, not leaving much suspense about how they’ll react if Simon reaches his ultimate decision about revealing his true self.

With that said,  “Love, Simon” surely is crowd-pleasing. That’s also thanks to its adaptation of a young-adult novel (Becky Albertalli’s “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” a title that surely would have challenged theater marquees) by its screenwriters, who have proven their own skill in this vein: Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, writer-producers on TV’s acclaimed “This Is Us.”

Of course, the major key to success for a story like this is the appeal of the central player, and Berlanti struck gold in finding and casting Robinson. Though he was in “Jurassic World,’’ he might be best-known from his several seasons of series work on the sitcom “Melissa & Joey,” but this clearly is his breakout project. He surely gets help from such acting veterans as Garner and Duhamel, but the heavy lifting really falls on him here, and he impressively shows himself quite capable of shouldering it.

“Love, Simon” aims to mass-market a theme that has been handled selectively and somewhat sporadically by movies up to now, and it deserves credit on that count alone. It’s a bonus that it should strike any viewer as simply a very enjoyable film.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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