By Glenn Kenny
For the most part, “Love, Simon” is an amiable, slick, silver-tongued teen romantic comedy. Set in a particularly idyllic Atlanta suburb, replete with lifestyle wish-fulfillment production design, it’s the kind of movie in which the filmmakers signal their exquisite taste by proxy. (Said filmmakers are the director Greg Berlanti and the screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, adapting a novel by Becky Albertalli.) For instance, when Simon, the lead character, needs to choose an email address from which to send a series of love letters to an anonymous subject, he adapts a lyric from the Kinks’ classic album “Something Else by the Kinks.” Which Simon enjoys on vinyl, of course.
The reason for the anonymity is that the high schooler Simon is, like his correspondent, gay. He hasn’t come out largely because he’s not sure how to go about doing so, and his continuing reluctance gets him enmeshed with a thoroughly obnoxious weasel of a blackmailer. The blackmailer’s aim is simple: He wants to gain a romantic advantage with one of Simon’s female friends, and while Simon is in a sense too smart for this nonsense, he reluctantly complies.
In the movie’s last third it gains a lot of guts. Simon has to contend with the fallout from what he considered a necessary hypocrisy and the personal betrayals it entailed. The emotional resonance may be surprising given the movie’s relentless gloss, but it’s real. The spectacularly charming cast, led by the young Nick Robinson in the title role (who brings a knowing touch of 1980s Matthew Broderick to some of his line readings), puts it all across, including a genuinely crowd-pleasing ending.