Director: Greg Berlanti
Cast: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Talitha Eliana Bateman
Recently, we’ve seen a small yet significant surge in films featuring characters who, in mainstream-movie terms at least, would be considered minorities, such as people of ethnicities other than white, people with a range of disabilities, and women in general. With Love, Simon, the LGBTQ community, specifically the gay community, have finally gotten a leading teen gay character in a Hollywood production, something that has been a long time coming. As important and progressive as this is, does Love, Simon do a gay teen’s coming out story justice, or is it just jumping on a Hollywood-is-diverse-and-liberal bandwagon?
The first major studio film to feature a gay teenage love story, Love, Simon (based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda) is, as you may have guessed, the story of closeted gay seventeen-year-old Simon (Robinson) in his senior year of high school. Simon has known for a few years that he is gay, but has never revealed himself to anyone. One day, a student from Simon’s high school, going under the pseudonym ‘Blue’, reveals on the school’s gossip website that he (Blue) is gay. Simon then begins an email back-and-forth with Blue, as they support one another through their separate coming-outs. However Simon’s world is turned upside down when his sexuality is revealed by a classmate, and he has to deal with the fallout of not only his sexual preference being revealed, but the way he has treated his three closest friends in his bid to keep his secret hidden at all costs.
If we were to put aside the main plot revolving around a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, as though this were perfectly normal in film and countless movies had covered the same topic in the past, then this would standardly be considered a top notch teen film. It consists of all the aspects you would expect from such a genre and ticks many of the boxes, including the love story, the friendships and the overriding embarrassments all teens experience and tend to remember later in life more than anything else. But what truly brings Love, Simon to life, and gives all the aforementioned aspects their real meaning, is Simon’s personal story arc of dealing with his coming out as a young gay man. Director Greg Berlanti successfully elevates the emotion to a level not commonly felt in teen movies. Yes, we’ve all experienced the standard issues that every pubescent goes through, but not everyone will go through a realisation of who they fundamentally are, that which is written into their DNA. Love, Simon provides a sensitive and beautiful insight into what a young man (or, similarly, a young woman) may go through when figuring out who they are and hoping they will still be accepted for who they are when they reveal their true selves.
Many gay people, both famous and not, have applauded the film for its portrayal of the struggles of a gay teen, though it must also be remembered that Love, Simon is one (fictional) young man’s experience. No two people will go through the exact same experience: some have it easier, some have it worse, some grow up knowing who they are as well as everyone around them knowing, some take time to figure it out, some repress it their entire lives. Some struggle so much that we end up hearing the saddest stories, if we ever hear them at all. Story-wise, Love, Simon has its emotional ups and downs but generally has an upbeat attitude. Some may argue that it doesn’t provide enough in the way of dilemmas or hurdles for Simon, with his “perfectly normal life” outside of his secret, even the “villain” of the piece seeming a little far-fetched in his actions, even by modern teenage standards, and that is understandable; we often reprimand other films for doing such a thing and making life too easy for the characters. Why should this one be an exception? It’s because part of the point of the film is to celebrate being true to oneself and being accepted, and that means exuding positivity overall: if you want people to be positive about a certain subject matter, then it’s got to be painted in a positive light. And then in that sense it has opened the doors for future films of a similar vein to go a bit more in depth and explore the darker side of life for a person discovering their sexuality and/or coming out. All in good time.
Casting-wise, Nick Robinson was absolutely perfect for Simon. He plays the teen in such a grounded way, hiding his feelings whilst putting on a face to the rest of the world. Robinson makes Simon likable, as though he’s a friend of your own, and so you feel what he feels: some of his scenes will make you laugh (the I’ll-be-really-gay-in-college short dance number is inspired), some will put a tear in your eye (Simon and his father post-coming out, in particular). Simon’s friends, Leah (Langford), Nick (Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby (Shipp), are good supports to the main character, but they do come off as a little backwards at times and not the most understanding (not necessarily in relation to Simon’s coming out, but the events surrounding it). They’re a bit two-dimensional in comparison to Simon, but they generally serve their purpose, and the respective actors do as well as they can with what they’re given. Garner and Duhamel as Simon’s parents are wonderful, with the characters being perfect examples of modern, open-minded parents. Bateman as Simon’s sister Nora has one brief scene after Simon’s reveal that almost steals the entire movie, with a beautiful, natural, sisterly reaction. Some great comic turns from Natasha Rothwell and smirk-worthy lines from Tony Hale round out the emotional cycle of the film.
It’s absolutely right that films like Get Out and Black Panther are seen as ground-breaking in progressive cinema, just as films like Wonder Woman are lauded for their use of a female protagonist and a largely female cast, but it’s high time these kind of movies, along with Love, Simon, were considered the norm. Of course this is unlikely to happen for a while as change does take time, but thanks to these movies and the people behind them we are edging ever closer to not only these narratives and characters becoming more mainstream and setting the standard, but the realities of these stories becoming the norm as well.
Overall, Love, Simon is a sweet and heart-warming affirmation of a modern teen film, something John Hughes would no doubt be proud of. Accepting people for who they are, sending that message of tolerance and open-mindedness and pushing out love rather than hate is a huge part of making a difference in the real world, and everyone involved in Love, Simon, from the filmmakers to the studios to the audiences, deserve applause for creating and supporting the film, its message and the real people it represents.