What’s game-changing about the teen romcom Love Simon, in theaters this Friday, isn’t that it features a gay, teenage character—it’s that the gay character is finally the lead, as opposed to, say, the cool girl’s flamboyant, stereotyped sidekick, who gives her fashion advice and fawns over how “fabulous” she looks.
Love Simon—based on the popular YA novel Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by the This is Us screenwriters, directed by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale, The Flash), and produced by those who brought us The Fault in our Stars—is being touted as the first major studio film aimed at teens about a gay teen. So there’s a lot of anticipation.
Watch: Coming Out Stories: Greg Berlanti
"I'm just like you," 17-year-old Simon (Nick Robinson) says in voice over, as the film opens with vignettes of him and his friends hanging out at school. "Except I have one huge-ass secret," he adds, while we watch him tell a hot guy carrying leaf blower in the neighborhood that he likes his boots. "Nobody knows I’m gay.”
Simon struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity—including being blackmailed over a secret online romance and figuring out how to come out—but he also experiences the 360 degrees of confusion, excitement, and torture that every high-school student does: There are jocks, nerds, and artsy kids, parties, football games, unrequited love, and of course plenty of teen angst. Like Easy A or The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, this is a good high school movie: honest, funny, sad, and neither exploitive or too saccharine.
True, Simon’s home life is a bit ideal. His family has perky breakfasts together in their magazine-perfect kitchen. But the heartbreak is in the details. When his dad comments about The Bachelor being "so gay," we cringe right along with Simon. The movie doesn't push its own boundaries quite as much as a 13 Reasons Why (whose lead actress, Katherine Langford, costars), but it doesn’t fall back on the exaggerated stereotypes so often seen in LGBT media portrayals either. It's relatable and long overdue.
Here, get to know the characters who make the movie so damn good—and the seven scenes everyone will be talking about. (Spoilers ahead.)
1. Nick Robinson as Simon
He’s smart and sincere as the closeted, gay teen protagonist who just wants to find love and come out on his own terms. As an actor, Robinson could be the next Ansel Elgort.
How You Know Him: The Kings of Summer, Jurassic Park, and Everything, Everything
Best Scenes: When he emails with a mystery closeted friend, “Blue,” exchanging stories about “when they knew.” “I kept having a recurring dream about Daniel Radcliff, and I was obsessed with Panic At the Disco, and it wasn’t about the music,” Simon writes. As his relationship with Blue unfolds, we see him finally feeling understood and learning to embrace his identity. His most powerful scene is when he confronts the manipulative weasel of a student who blackmailed and then outed him. “I’m supposed to be the one who decides when and where and who knows,” Simon trembles in anger. “That’s supposed to be my thing.”
What’s Next: Strange But True with Margaret Qualley and Krystal with Rosario Dawson and Grant Gustin.
2. Katherine Langford as Leah
She nails it as Simon’s longtime cool best friend who is suffering through a secret love for him.
How You Know Her: 13 Reasons Why
Best Scenes: When she has a platonic sleep over at Simon’s, and we can tell by her face that she’s quietly longing for him. Also, the scene where she finally confesses her love for him after finding out he’s gay. “I’ve been trying to tell you,” she says. “All those years you were so picky about girls, I thought maybe you were in love with me too.”
What’s Next: Spontaneous
3. Alexandra Shipp as Abby
She’s an adorable breath of fresh air as the spunky, new girl who becomes a core part of Simon and Leah’s friend group.
How You Know Her: X-Men: Apocalypse, Straight Outta Compton
Best Scenes: When, after Simon tells her he’s gay and asks whether she’s surprised, she replies, “Do you want me to be surprised?”
What’s Next: Dude with Lucy Hale, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, A Dogs Way Home and Shaft
4. Jennifer Garner as Emily
She’s kind of the perfect movie parent as Simon’s cool and uber-understanding, liberal therapist mom.
How You Know Her: 13 Going on 30, Juno, Dallas Buyers Club, Daredevil, TV’s Alias, her high profile marriages to Scott Foley and Ben Affleck, and more
Best Scenes: After Simon comes out, when she tells him, “These last few years I could almost hear you holding your breath ... You are still you, Simon. You’re the same son I love to tease ... the same brother who compliments his sister’s food even when it sucks. And now you get to be you more than you’ve ever been. You get to exhale.”
What’s Next: Peppermint, Amusement Park, and a new TV series called Camping
5. Josh Duhamel as Jack
He’s Simon’s well-meaning if sometimes misguided ex-jock dad, Jack, who still loves his wife after 20 years and cries at movies.
How You Know Him: Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, a slew of Transformers films, being Fergie’s Ex, and more
Best Scenes: When, after having made a few homophobic comments earlier in the film, he finally tells his son, “I wouldn’t change anything about you,” and starts to cry. Then, after they hug he says, “Hey, I thought maybe we could sign up for Grinder!” calling it "Facebook for gay people."
What’s Next: The Buddy Games with Olivia Munn
6. Tony Hale as Mr. Worth
He’s a major scene stealer as the amped Vice Principal who tries desperately to be accepted by his students as “cool” even as he is constantly taking away their cell phones with quips like, “I cant have all my students Tindering it up. That’s my department!”
How you Know Him: Veep and Arrested Development
Best Scenes: Every time he stops Simon in the school hallways and tries to bond. “Hey, don’t text and drive! That’s how my cat got killed,” he says one day. “Just kidding I don’t have cats. I have asthma."
What’s Next: Sadie, Batman Ninja and A Series of Unfortunate Events
7. Natasha Rothwell as Mrs. Albright
Like Hale, she’s a mega scene stealer as jaded, take-no-crap drama teacher, and she gets most of the film's heartiest laughs.
How You Know Her: TV’s Insecure. She was also a writer for SNL.
Best Scenes: After watching her drama students’ lame rehearsal of “Cabaret,” she exclaims, “I was an extra in the Lion King! And this is where I am?"
What’s Next: More Insecure!