Love, Simon: An unconventional conventional love story

Teenage boys struggling to find their voice while dipping their toes into the world of romance isn’t exactly groundbreaking cinema.

What separates director Greg Berlanti’s new film “Love, Simon” from the pack is its commitment to opening a dialogue about love, identity and self-discovery that will last long after audiences leave the theater.

There will come a day when films like “Love, Simon” won’t have to be prefaced by saying its protagonist is homosexual, but part of the appeal of this film in this is the way that it preaches respect and acceptance of sexual identity.

Simon (Nick Robinson) is an average high school student starting his senior year with a good family and good friends, none of whom know his secret.

When another gay teen in the closet anonymously reveals himself online, Simon begins an email conversation that evolves into infatuation.

Given such a complex character, it’s remarkable that Robinson is able to play both the foil for the comedic hijinks of other characters and carry the film’s largest emotional burden. Robinson balances his dual role with ease, providing a simple, yet measured performance that evokes an 80s-era John Cusack.

Josh Duhamel offers a surprisingly well-rounded performance as Simon’s dad, a stereotypical former high school quarterback who pals around with his son in overly masculine fashion and doesn’t know how to properly relate to Simon.

It’s hard to tell whether Duhamel is intentionally playing up the awkwardness of their relationship or his inability to relate on screen is actually working in his favor. Regardless, it comes across well in the final product.

Conversely, Jennifer Garner gives a very even-keeled turn as Simon’s mother aside from one profoundly wonderful scene late in the film as she tries to reconnect with her emotionally distant son.

This moment is a powerful gut-punch in a relatively light-hearted film that helps hammer home the movie’s central message with great effect, largely due to Garner’s pitch-perfect delivery in the moment.

The film’s best secondary character, Principal Worth, could be blandly one-dimensional, but is hysterically brought to life by “Arrested Development” star Tony Hale.

Even in the quickest of scenes, Hale is able to interject new life into the film with a quippy one-liner that might easily fall flat in the hands of a less talented comedic performer.

Berlanti does an effective job directing the well-written script from Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker by largely staying out of the way and allowing moments to develop on screen naturally.

It should be noted, albeit disappointingly, that “Love, Simon” would be unquestionably the number one movie at the box office if it were a traditional, heterosexual romantic comedy.

The fact that it isn’t, ironically, elevates and complicates the rather common, pedestrian genre of high school coming of age stories to interesting, engaging cinema.

“Love, Simon” insist on audiences dropping their preconceived notions of what love is and who it’s meant for, reminding us all that being different isn’t a bad thing.

The message of “Love, Simon” will get lost on those who need to hear its message the most: Potential audiences who, for whatever reason, will refuse to give “Love, Simon” a chance.

“Love, Simon” is a perfect companion piece to “Call Me By Your Name,” last year’s Oscar-winning coming of age drama that spoke a similar message in a much different way.

If prestige arthouse cinema isn’t your cup of tea, maybe the youthful, upbeat humor and heart-warming drama of “Love, Simon” could be the John Hughes-esque movie audiences didn’t know they needed.

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