Love, Simon (2018)

Hot on the heels of Lady Bird comes the next great high school movie in Love, Simon. It’s a tenderly told coming(-out)-of-age tale, with timeless themes of acceptance and identity set against the digital landscapes of communication, exploitation, and connection.

Nick Robinson gives a starmaking performance as Simon Spier, a teen just starting to embrace his homosexuality, whose “coming-out” moment is threatened by blackmail. It takes a toll on his friends, his family, and his online pen pal, an anonymous figure “Blue” with whom Simon has forged a deeply personal, however digital, relationship.

He knows Blue attends his school, but that’s about it. He looks for clues and references wherever he goes, and finds the boy of his dreams in different moments of his everyday: a chatty waiter at a waffle house, the quiet piano player for the school musical, a friendly acquaintance. This is translated to film to compelling effect, as Blue’s voice and appearance evolve throughout the movie, resembling the closest match Simon can piece together at that exact time.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, as the sole gay kid striving to find connection. It’s hard to discern a friendly smile and personal demeanor into a gay “cue” that another male could be more than just a friend. The excitement of possibility, and anxiety of rejection, from so many potential “suitors” ring very true to the closeted homosexual experience.

Just how acutely and perceptively Love, Simon captures these elements is one of its greatest strengths. In a highlight moment (with stellar acting by Mr. Robinson), Simon confronts the one who “outs” him, denying Simon his own empowerment and agency, to stake out his own identity on his own terms. The complications and nuances of this milestone moment for any young adult are difficult to translate to film, much less in a studio picture for a mainstream audience; but Love, Simon does it to astonishing effect.

But more than capturing the struggles and strife of the gay experience, Love, Simon also finds joy, warmth, and affirmation. After coming out to his family, Simon’s mother (Jennifer Garner) confesses that Simon is “more of [him]self than [he’s] been in years.” The conflict tearing Simon apart is the fear that coming out will change others’ perception of him, as though there were a “before” and “after” to his identity; but he’s been the same Simon all along, and his loved ones know that.

I could have used a movie like Love, Simon ten years ago, and I’m so thankful that we have it now. As our cultural climate is evolving to be one of greater diversity and inclusion, it’s great progress to see a story like this, geared toward the younger audience who needs it most, available on such a large scale. The “It Gets Better” initiative launched in 2010, promising that the troubles young LGBT people face will someday diminish; in 2018, young people are being re-affirmed through stories promising that they can have, and deserve to have, happiness right now in the present.

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Oscars Ballot 2018

Whatever’s been happening in the real world, 2017 was honestly a pretty terrific year for film. We’ve had outstanding debuts and career peaks from veteran artists. The tones vary between troubling paranoia and familial reassurance, both (arguably) in response to what’s taking place outside the movie theater.

But most importantly (for Oscar purposes, anyways), we’ve gotten a solid batch of nominees. There is great diversity reflected not only in race and culture, but in tone and genre, for an exciting cross-section representing what cinema has become.

BEST PICTURE

I’d rank the nominees as:

  1. Call Me By Your Name
  2. Lady Bird
  3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Phantom Thread
  5. The Shape of Water
  6. Get Out
  7. The Post
  8. Dunkirk
  9. Darkest Hour

Sticking with nine nominees though, I would drop the bottom three and bring in:

Likely Winner: A lot of the stats seem to lean towards The Shape of Water, particularly given the (alleged) backlash to Three Billboards despite its sweeping most of the heavy-hitter awards. I cautiously call it at The Shape of Water, but even Phantom Thread has been picking up steam lately.

My Pick: My favorite of the live-action films last year was Call Me By Your Name, though one could argue Lady Bird or Three Billboards is truly the “best,” and I wouldn’t dispute that. I would be pleased if any of those three took home the gold.



BEST DIRECTOR

Likely Winner: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water.

My Pick: Mr. del Toro’s vision permeates through every aspect of The Shape of Water, and has solidified his craft as a true auteur. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig as clearly new, exciting voices in film and one hopes the best is yet ahead in their careers. For Guillermo del Toro, this is arguably his career high (it’s my favorite of his films to date), and the time feels right.



BEST ACTOR

Likely Winner: Gary Oldman for being grumpy in makeup in Darkest Hour. 

My Pick: Timothee Chalamet is extraordinary in his breakout Call Me By Your Name, though like Gerwig and Peele, this is hopefully the start of a tremendous career for him. 


BEST ACTRESS

Likely Winner: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards

My Pick: Ms. McDormand is truly exceptional in a role worthy of her immense talents. I was also stunned by the explosive performance by Margot Robbie in I, Tonya and, as always, Saoirse Ronan disappears into a fully believable heroine as Lady Bird. This category may be the most “loaded” of any this year, and each of the three would be deserving winners.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Likely Winner: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards

My Pick: Even as the third-billed, Sam Rockwell’s performance as Officer Dixon in Three Billboards is what stuck with me the most. His police officer is a fully realized, wholly believable portrait of a deeply flawed man, struggling to crawl himself out of a pit of his own making.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Likely Winner: All signs seem to point to Allison Janney in I, Tonya (and she’s terrific in it), but I’m partial to…

My Pick: Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird‘s patient, sturdy, and understanding mother. The film would not work were it not for Metcalf’s grounding performance.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Likely Winner: Get Out, a creative social satire that has clearly struck a chord with the zeitgeist.

My Pick: This is another category that’s filled to the brim with talent. Few films hit me as hard as The Big Sick this year, but I would be equally happy with a Lady Bird or Three Billboards win.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Likely Winner: Call Me By Your Name

My Pick: Call Me By Your Name, particularly for adapting a sleepy, murky tale into a vibrant moment of discovery. The Mudbound script is also excellent, particularly for its shifting perspective and poetic interior monologues.


What are your picks for Oscar night? Who should take home the gold? Reply below in the comments!