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The teen romance is a particular subset of the romantic comedy genre that's specifically geared toward a younger audience. Like most rom-coms, they frequently fall into nearly identical plots, which generally requires them to live or die based on how much you like the characters themselves. Love, Simon pretty much is exactly that sort of movie, and while the characters are fun enough to spend 90 minutes with, there is one other thing that does separate it from the rest of the genre, which helps make it special.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a high school kid in his senior year. He's got a loving family and good friends and things are going pretty well for him, with the one exception being that he's gay, and nobody knows it. He's been wrestling with what to do about this when a message on a PostSecret like website, that is apparently only used by students at this particular high school, reveals that there is there is another closeted gay kid somewhere at school. Simon decides to anonymously message this other student -- because for some reason, anonymous online posts include publicly posting an email address -- and the two begin an online correspondence. This slowly becomes something more, even though neither one knows the identity of the other. Unfortunately, when Simon's emails end up in the hands of theater geek Miles (Logan Miller), Simon is blackmailed into setting up Miles with Simon's friend, Abby (Alexandra Shipp).

The events of Love, Simon aren't really surprising. Rather, the film focuses on the one thing it does differently, making the romantic quest at the center of the story gay rather than straight, and it can't be denied that it does make the tired formula feel ever so slightly fresh for having done so.

Nick Robinson is a charming lead. For Love, Simon to work, you have to invest in him and that's not hard. He supported by an equally likable cast that includes Katherine Langford and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. who round out Simon's inner circle of friends with Alexandra Shipp. The "grown-ups" don't fare quite as well. The school principal (Tony Hale) is the teen comedy staple "teacher who tries too hard to relate to the kids" while the one teacher who gets any screen time (Natasha Rothwell) falls victim to the "I don't get paid enough for this" character. Simon's parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) are slightly better off, but still feel more like "cool parent" tropes than characters, at first.

If you've seen one of these movies, you can pretty much diagram the plot. Simon's attempts to keep his secret lead to bad decisions, that then lead to more bad decisions to cover the previous bad decisions, until it all eventually collapses. We've seen this before. Except for the Whitney Houston dance number. That's new.

Having said that, when the movie shifts into its inevitable third act, it takes a fresh turn which we obviously don't get from the standard teenage romance. Love, Simon handles itself well when it gets serious. Simon's parents shift from being "cool parents" to coming across more like actual people. Everybody reacts in ways that feel genuine, and genuinely moving.

Part of the rom-com trope occurs when one character has to lie to another in order to prevent some potential bad outcome from happening. What usually follows is that the web of lies becomes worse than the thing they're trying to prevent. But in Love, Simon, that's not quite the case. This is as close to "end of the world" as things can get for some teenagers. It doesn't excuse his previous actions, but it does make them understandable.

And then it ends the way all these movies end. Yes, Love, Simon follows a formula we've seen a thousand times before, but that's sort of the point. The formula works (assuming you think it does) regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters involved. If this is your kind of movie, then it's still your kind of movie, even if your sexuality doesn't match. That doesn't absolve Love, Simon for using every cliche in the book, but it's nice to see them used to a different end.

Love, Simon is a dubious step on the road to equality, proof that conventional romantic dramas are no longer limited to straight people. But they shouldn't be limited to straight people, so for that, Love, Simon gets at least a little credit.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five