Tag: greg berlanti

Love, Simon


Love, Simon (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

The first major studio-supported teen coming out story “Love, Simon,” based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, starts off on the wrong foot and stumbles. Considering the quality cast, I couldn’t help but wonder why nearly every attempt at humor comes across forced and cringe-worthy. A silly attempt at flirting before driving off for school. The overly enthusiastic vice-principal (Tony Hale) collecting cell phones in the hall. An uneasy interaction with the class clown (Logan Miller) by the lockers. These are elements that belong in a television show. Easy to execute, low rewards. But something interesting happens about a third of the way through. The film stops playing everything so safe. I was jolted into paying attention as the title character goes through desperate lengths to keep his “huge-ass secret” hidden. Simon is likable, but some of his decisions are not.

Simon is played by Nick Robinson and it is smart casting not only because the actor has an effortless sad look about him (which served him well in the drama “Being Charlie,” about a drug-addicted teen who decides to terminate his treatment prematurely), required during the more dramatic turns of the plot. It is critical, especially for a commercial coming out story, that the protagonist be convincing as an American boy next door who goes to school in the suburbs in either coast—including the Midwest, perhaps even the South. Because the look of the subject is accessible, relatable, and approachable, gay teenagers still in the closet might look at him and immediately recognize a part of themselves. And for those who may not look or act like him, the screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger is already a step ahead.

It is true that the main character dreads to reveal his sexual identity. He recognizes that his liberal parents will likely accept him (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel). And he is almost certain his best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) will have no problem with it. Looking closely, it isn’t really the coming out that terrifies him most; the core of his fear is those he loves seeing him differently after the fact. And that’s what this picture gets exactly right that so many LGBTQ pictures, many of them comedies, that tackle the same subject get exactly wrong. I admired that the material has the sense to explore what it means to come out of the closet, not just the act of it. Because of this insight and willingness to dive deeper an extra level, despite its shortcomings, it is already a tier above its contemporaries.

About three quarters of the way through, the picture has reached full power. There is a wonderful exchange—moving, delicate, and powerful all rolled into one—between mother and son that highlights what it means to come to terms with one’s sexuality, to decide to live that private sphere more publicly; its effects on one’s state of mind and overall sense of being further down the line even though every day is a long, painful struggle at the moment. Garner reminds us how underutilized she is as a dramatic performer. It reminded me of the disarming exchange between father and son at end of Luca Guadagnino’s sublime “Call Me by Your Name.” Both interactions underscore optimism and hope for the future. It is something that every LGBTQ person, especially youths, ought to hear and take with them.

“Love, Simon,” directed by Greg Berlanti, is not without genuinely amusing moments. Particularly creative are instances when we get a peek inside Simon’s imagination. Cue the striking changes in lighting and pop songs playing in the background. Following an anonymous post at the school website, Simon begins a correspondence with “Blue,” a student who claims he is gay. Part of the fun is following Simon’s journey in trying to guess or deduce the identity of Blue. We are provided a few candidates. Some lead to inevitable heartbreak even though it appears that certain candidates fit the puzzle based on the contents of the e-mails. Admittedly, I had my money on the incorrect candidate, but I appreciated that the material went ahead with the braver choice.

Life as We Know It


Life as We Know It (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel), complete strangers to one another, were supposed to go out for dinner because their married best friends thought they would get along swimmingly. But they called it quits before they even reached the restaurant. Holly thought Eric was a child trapped in a handsome man’s body, while Eric thought Holly was a pretty but uptight blonde who had no idea how to let her hair down for a change. But when their best friends died in a car accident, they were named as one-year-old Sophie’s guardians. Holly and Eric had to try to put their differences aside to take care of the baby. “Life as We Know It,” written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, were labeled by some critics as emotionally bankrupt because it used death as a source of commercial comedy. I’d have to disagree; plenty of films out there, especially dark comedies, have used the same topic and they received critical acclaim. I say why not as long as the film retained a certain level of respect. The movie didn’t feel malicious toward its subjects. The characters may have felt more like caricatures at times but, in general, it had a bona fide sense of humor. I just wish it had stayed away from too many gross-out humor involving vomit and changing diapers. Two or three of those scenes were more than enough but we were given about seven. The heart of the picture was Holly and Eric’s strained relationship. They tolerated each other but they obviously didn’t like each other. They were so used to having their way because they were single. The only thing they had to focus on was their career. Holly ran a business as a caterer (typically feminine) and Eric worked behind the scenes in a sports network (typically masculine). The story was most interesting when it focused on how they tried to change themselves and each other as they hoped to raise a healthy child. They had to break their typical feminine and masculine roles in order to be well-rounded parents. Their various approaches to parenting were rarely perfect–certain decisions were downright stupid like Eric leaving a baby to a cab driver just so he could go to work–but that was what made them charming. Through trial-and-error, they learned from their mistakes. Another source of conflict was the romance between Sam (Josh Lucas) and Holly. They should have had more scenes together instead of the unfunny scenes with the colorful neighbors (Melissa McCarthy) and the nosy Child Protection Services agent (Sarah Burns). We saw that they cared for each other but their situation was far from optimum. Holly was in a critical state of transition while Sam was ready to settle down. I was glad there wasn’t a typical rivalry between the two men in Holly’s life. “Life as We Know It,” directed by Greg Berlanti, had good elements but it was ultimately weighed down by too many slapstick humor and heavy-handed metaphor such as Holly’s business expansion reflecting Holly, Eric, and Sophie’s life at home. It could have been stronger if the writers eliminated comfortable but unnecessary clichés and taken more risks.

Green Lantern


Green Lantern (2011)
★ / ★★★★

When Hal was young, he witnessed the death of his father due to an aviation accident. Almost twenty years later, we came to discover that Hal (Ryan Reynolds) followed his father’s footsteps and became a successful test pilot. Meanwhile, two entities had been in war for a millennia: a group of warriors known as Green Lantern Corps, powered by will, and Parallax, powered by fear. The latter was quickly gaining the upper hand by literally eating the souls of its enemies. When one of the leaders of the corps, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), made an emergency landing on Earth after being attacked by the evil Parallax, he managed to pass his powers onto unsuspecting Hal. “Green Lantern,” directed by Martin Campbell, was sloppily put together. A myriad strands were introduced but not one achieved an above average level of thought nor a minutiae of common sense, so the film ultimately felt flat. Let’s take the romance between Hal and Carol (Blake Lively) as an example. Supposedly, the two of them had known each other for more than half their lives. I found that very hard to believe. While the two obviously cared for each other, perhaps even on a romantic level, I found it frustrating that they didn’t know how to communicate as adults and as close friends. If you’ve been friends with someone for a very long time, that certain connection, which often defies explanation, should be palpable to a third party. But I never felt that special connection when Hal and Carol were on screen. In fact, the whole thing felt forced. There were a lot of puppy dog eyes and polite smiles, like I was watching some teenage soap opera where characters pretend to be dumb yet they have the nerve to complain about the fact that no one is getting what they want. The screenplay, by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, came off as rather desperate in injecting a human element into the story. I actually would have enjoyed the movie more if Hal and Carol were given the time to sit and talk about their feelings for up to three key scenes and defined their relationship once and for all. Then focus on the action, without the hammy and frivolous will-he-or-won’t-she interruptions, because 1) I wanted to see the war between good and evil and 2) watch things blow up in the city. The decision to put petty romances between action sequences made the project disjointed. As a result, the momentum failed to build and I ended up not caring. Another one of Hal and Carol’s childhood friend was Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a formerly corpulent boy who preferred to stay indoors and read books rather than to play outside. Eventually, Hector became an agent of evil after being infected by an alien life form. But why was his transformation necessary? Since the writers offered no answer to that question, it was pretty much implied that brainiacs were less than so they deserved to be punished. That wouldn’t have been the case if we had a chance to observe Hector being black-hearted as a child in the first place. “Green Lantern” need not have been too serious nor abound with grand special effects to qualify as a decent superhero movie. It just needed to tell its story with clarity.