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'Love, Simon': You've Got Blackmail

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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While director Greg Berlanti's "Love, Simon" is at once funny, serious and important, it's a darn shame that it is so very apt ... that this astute tale about a teenage boy's struggle to make his gayness known is revolutionary at all. Memo of inquiry to American civilization: It's the spring of 2018, and this fact of life is just making the mainstream? Well, better late than never. 
 
Truth is, attitudinal changes come slowly, especially to the narrow-minded. But the seed of tolerant reformation, boosted during the enlightenment of the '60s, has finally gained pragmatic traction. Today's kids, who have of late heroically evidenced that they'll be fully capable of steering our ship of state — and the sooner the better, if you ask me — see the current sociopolitical landscape through mendacity-proof glasses. They've thus far resisted forsaking their juice boxes for the Kool-Aid. And as such, they're hardly threatened by the hate-mongering, homophobic purveyors of prejudice who, for the most part, they consider as antique as the dial telephone in granny's kitchen. It's simple math. Cut someone out because they're this or that and you have fewer friends.
 
Still, it isn't yet all Nirvana and acceptance at Creekwood High School, where Simon Spier, winningly portrayed by Nick Robinson, will play out his coming-of-age story courtesy of a romantic triangle or two that collide and force the issue he wasn't ready to confront. He's gay, but neither his parents nor his circle of best friends knows. He's been planning to keep it that way until next year when he goes to college. 
 
However, when his pal Leah (Katherine Langford) tells him of an online coming-out by a gay student who calls himself Blue, Simon's interest is piqued.
 
Using the alias, Jacques, he makes contact and soon, via mutual commiseration and joyful, cathartic truth-telling, a cyber tête-à-tête develops. It's "You've Got Mail" (1998) revisited, but with a dark kicker. Borrowing from the playbook of current events down Foggy Bottom way, when Simon doesn't log off at one of the school's communal computers, a snooping party not opposed to blackmail if it'll serve his selfish interests tells Simon that he knows what he knows.
 
Since Simon isn't about to sic the already overloaded and lately harassed FBI on the jerk, he figures his only option is to concede to the extortionist. It'll entail some ill-advised matchmaking. Of course, if Sir Walter Scott went to Creekwood, he might have warned Simon, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive." Increasingly, because of these dubious machinations, Simon, whose integrity was heretofore unimpeachable, comes under increasing scrutiny. In the vernacular, some of his homies are wondering, "What the .. ?"
 
While all of this is quite serious on several levels, it is a credit to director Berlanti that his interpretation of the witty screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, adapted from Becky Albertalli's novel, "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," remains quite buoyant. Mixing various modes of comedy with its more solemn erudition, including a healthy smattering of sophisticated sarcasm, the movie charmingly promotes the altruistic aura that comes of shedding the bigotry that, since time immemorial, has shamefully engendered misery for untold millions.
 
But the gravity is never lost on us. Mulling this injustice while Simon tries to extricate himself from the corner he has been painted into, we land on the philosophical square that asks, why can't people just give each other a break already? We disdain the root venality of the life-ruining repressiveness that serves only the misdirected and sanctimonious vanities of the sadly insecure.
 
In confiding his plight to a pal, our title character opines, "Why just us, why don't heteros have to come out?" Fantasy scenes comically illustrate the proposition. Complementing the intelligent meditations on the cause célèbre, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ensemble cast of fellow classmates entertainingly creates the sociology that is Creekwood High.
 
A telling thumbnail sketch of Americana, it is both reminiscent and profoundly contemporizing, from the cliquish cafeteria coteries, to the time-honored camaraderies you will cherish forever, to Vice Principal Worth's (Tony Hale) humorously good-natured confiscation of cellphones. I could practically taste the delicious, frosting-topped cake served in my own lunchroom, only 10 cents extra.
 
Apportioning superbly blended ladles of honey and vinegar in its elucidations, this is the first movie from a major studio about gay teen romance. As significant as it is engaging, it is a fine example of the American muckrake petitioning our better instincts. While institutions, jurisdictions, courts and the great unwashed are bound to follow so long as our democracy remains intact, again it is left to art to be the pathfinder, the arbiter between primitive fear and our humanistic nature to progress. All of which is why you'll at least like, if not "Love, Simon."
 
"Love, Simon," rated PG-13, is a Twentieth Century Fox release directed by Greg Berlanti and stars Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford and Alexandra Shipp. Running time: 110 minutes

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