‘Love, Simon’ greatly improves on its literary source (review)

This article contains spoilers.

Most of the time, readers of the book will insist that the source material is superior to its film adaptation, but as one who read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and watched its adaptation Love, Simon in between, I’m one of the exceptions.

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I had read the first three chapters of the book, written by Becky Albertalli, over a month before catching the movie when it made it to Singapore theaters in early May. Love, Simon turned out to be an entertaining high school comedy drama: a genre that has been increasingly abandoned this decade with the advent of fantasy franchises dominating theaters.

Love, Simon was funny: my friend laughed the loudest at every punchline delivered by sassy drama teacher Ms. Albright (played by one Natasha Rothwell, who unfortunately doesn’t have a Wikipedia page).

But I didn’t find the movie particularly emotional, mostly because it was a tad too optimistic. When lead character Simon Spier (Jurassic World‘s Nick Robinson) comes out to his parents over Christmas, his parents’ reactions lacked the expected dramatics. When school resumes after Christmas and his sexuality’s been exposed online, Simon is too composed. Even the bullying he is subjected to is mild compared to the social torture LGBT teenagers face daily… or is it 2018 and has bullying really subsided?

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I returned home and finished Albertalli’s book over the weekend, hoping the story would capture these emotions better, especially since the book is written in first-person.

Unfortunately, the book turned out to be less compelling than the film: Love, Simon actually improved on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

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Simon’s speculation of the identity of his online pen pal was illustrated much more superiorly in Love, Simon, transitioning from a friend at school to a flirtatious waiter original to the film, then to another schoolmate. During the movie I whispered to my friend, “this feels like a mystery thriller.”

The scenes were condensed and enhanced to make them richer in storytelling. In the book, the Halloween party was nearly redundant, and the Waffle House scene wasn’t half as interesting. Supporting characters were also assigned subplots in the movie: Leah (13 Reason Why‘s Katherine Langford) has a secret crush on Simon, while Abby (X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Alexandra Shipp) has a deeper backstory. Even the ramifications of Simon manipulating Abby were amplified.

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In the book, Simon’s parents reacted more (if not equally) nonchalantly to his coming out, with no endearing scenes of Mr and Mrs Spier (played brilliantly in the film by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner respectively) having individual personal moments with their son.

That said, there were more instances of bullying when Simon returned to school after the Christmas break; the only book-versus-film difference that I appreciated, solely for the realism.

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It’s also the first such LGBT film by a major Hollywood studio. LGBT films that garner significant attention are usually Oscar-nominated indie flicks like Brokeback Mountain (2005), Moonlight (2016) and Call Me By Your Name (2017). Watching a gay film with the Hollywood treatment (crisp color, blockbuster cinematography etc.) was refreshing: it seems minority representation has come a long way.

Alas, box office numbers will determine the future of making such films. While films like Black Panther performed phenomenally (a win for black people), Love, Simon‘s grosses have been mediocre. After over one and a half months in theaters, the movie has totalled only $56 million against a $17 million budget.

The 2x loose breakeven rule applied, Love, Simon profited approximately around $23 million so far, a small amount compared to similar teen book-to-film adaptations like The Fault in Our Stars, which profited over $280 million.

Optimistically, the film’s theatrical run has yet to end, so the film can still rake in more grosses. Subsequently, home media sales should bolster the film’s grosses greatly. After all, tons of people are probably eager to watch the film; they just aren’t ready to walk into a theater that screens it.

My advice? Just skip the book. Watch the movie.

Movie: 4/5
Book: 2½/5

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