Time to Exhale.
I saw this as a Cineworld “Secret Unlimited Screening” event (for non-UK readers, Cineworld is one of the main movie-theater chains), so went in – like the majority of the audience I suspect – predicting early sight of Lara Croft in skin tight shorts! This was a bit different! A secret screening is an interesting concept, and really tests the metal of a film in engaging its audience early. This one failed to some degree, with seven people (I was counting) walking out in the first 10 minutes. (To be fair on those seven, the film’s first 20 minutes are rather laborious; and to be fair on the film, this was a pretty full auditorium so as a percentage drop out it was low).
Teen heartthrob Nick Robinson (the older brother from “Jurassic World“) plays the eponymous hero who has a well-buried secret: he’s gay. Growing up in Pleasantville (I almost expected someone to yell “Cat!” and the fire brigade turn up) he feels unable to come out to either his high-school friends or his loving family (“Apple pie cooling on the window-sill anyone?”). But striking up an email relationship with another closeted male from the same high school – nicknamed “Blue” – allows him to explore his feelings about his sexuality and fall in love all at the same time. But neither coming out or love run terribly smoothly for Simon…
I am forty years adrift from being able to directly relate to the stresses and strains of modern high-school life (though I AM still 17 on the inside people!) But even to me, this film doesn’t feel like it should be set in the present day. While it needs to be for its tweeting and blogging story-line, surely there are few backwaters in either America or Western Europe where gay people have to stay so silent? An 80’s or early 90’s setting would, I think, have worked so much better. (Ironically, its not his gay-ness or otherwise that his friends get upset by, but something far more fundamental in the human condition).
That aside, this is a sweet and ultimately quite engaging film that I’m sure will be a big hit with a teenage audience. While for me it didn’t come close to ticking all of the coming-of-age boxes that the inestimable “Lady Bird” did, it does cover old ground in a new and refreshing way, and I’m sure it WILL be very helpful for many gay people in getting the courage to come out. Times are different today, but I still can imagine few things requiring more bravery than declaring you are gay to your parents and closest friends (even though, deep down, they surely already suspect).
So, it’s sweet, but also for me (although far from its target audience) rather flat. As a comedy drama, the moments of comedy are few and far between, with only one or two of the lines making me chuckle rather than smile. A quiet auditorium is not a good sign for a film with “Comedy” in its imdb description. It does however occasionally break through with something memorable: a full on college “La La Land” scene (“Not that gay” – LoL) is a case in point. And all of the scenes featuring comedy actress Natasha Rothwell as drama teacher Ms Allbright add much needed energy and humour to the film.
Of the teen actors, Robinson is fine but it is Katherine Langford as Simon’s friend Leah who stood out for me. Talitha Eliana Bateman (“The 5th Wave“; looking a whole lot younger than her 16 years!) is also impressive as Simon’s culinary sister Nora. Simon’s parents are played by Jennifer Garner (“Dallas Buyers Club“) and Josh Duhamel (a new one on me… he’s been in the “Transformers” films apparently).
The screenplay is by movie virgins Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, and is a slightly patchy affair. There are scenes that worked well (a cringe inducing sports stadium scene for example) but other times where it seems to be trying too hard for T-shirt captions…. a line from Ethan (Clark Moore) about hate crime was a “Ye-what?” moment.
Some of the characters really don’t quite work either: Tony Hale (so memorable as the useless PA in “Veep”) plays almost a school-ified version of Stephen Stucker’s Johnny from “Airplane”. Perhaps that would work as some sort of whacky hall monitor guy… but it transpires that he is the headmaster. No, I don’t think so.
So, in summary, after a bit of a bumpy start, its a pleasant watch that culminates in a feel-good ending. Feel good, that is, providing you have liberal views: I can’t see it pleasing many Trump supporters. I also can’t see it getting a cinema release in Gambia or Nigeria, though God only knows they could use one. I was going to give this one FFF, but as I applaud both the theme its trying to promote and for bringing something fresh to the screen…
Fad Rating: FFFf.