If, like myself, you have been paying any kind of attention to LGBT+ cinema over the years, you will know that there has never been a major studio motion picture centred on a gay teen romance. Just let that sink in for a second. Not two months ago a film about a sexual relationship between an alien sea creature and a woman won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. An animated movie about a anthropomorphised beast and a young, virginal woman is one of Disney’s most beloved creations. It’s 2018, let’s get with the times, shall we?
Love, Simon tells the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted teenage boy who is unwilling to reveal his sexuality for fear of changing the ideal dynamic between both his his close friendship group and his family. After an anonymous coming out post on a student message site at his school sparks an intense and heartfelt pen pal relationship, Simon is urged to reassess the status of his secret, unfortunately not all on his on terms.
If you’re looking for a quick comparison, something like Easy A comes immediately to mind. The plot is filled with smart, sensitive characters who, though perhaps feeling like idealised versions of people, make for a really enjoyable, funny and heartwarming watch. What makes Love, Simon so refreshing is that it is a gay themed film that doesn’t revolve around the tough, negative reactions or self-hate/shame that cinema likes to pin to homosexuality. This isn’t a film about a gay protagonist being ostracised or outcast, it’s a teen flick that focuses more on the internal drama of coming to terms with your own sexuality, and how even if you are surrounded by friends and family who you know deep down are going to be completely accepting, it can still feel like your world is about to implode.
At its core, Love, Simon feels like a slightly more polished, sanitised version of a John Hughes movie, with the major positive exception being that it is much more diverse and progressive in its narrative choices. As with any teen rom-com, conflict and drama are necessary to the plot, and the one criticism I have for the film is in the messy, arguably irresponsible way that it goes about manufacturing its own central obstacle. There is a blackmail plot involving Simon and his online pen pal, and rather than treating it for the devastating, dangerous, potentially life shattering thing that it is, the film seems to play it off largely for laughs and ‘banter’. Something about that didn’t sit well with me, especially when compared to the refreshing nature of the rest of the narrative. In my opinion, a short sharp telling off for that particular character wasn’t enough to forgive the heinous act.
As Simon, Nick Robinson is an endearing and instantly likeable protagonist. He possesses the kind of ‘boy next door’ quality that really helps to enforce the universality and relatability of the film’s themes. His group of assorted besties played by Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. help to flesh out the high school universe, all giving individually good performances as well as sharing some really authentic chemistry as close friends.
Special mention must go to Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mother, Emily. A lot was said (including by me) about the speech that Michael Stuhlbarg’s character gives to this son Elio in the conclusion of last year’s Call Me By Your Name, and Garner produces something very similar here to, in my opinion, even greater effect. There is a level of pretension and superiority in Call Me By Your Name that stopped me from fully connecting to it, but the authenticity and sheer heart of Garner’s monologue in Love, Simon had me tearing up within seconds. It’s a scene of seriousness in a mostly lighthearted and fun film, and its impact on me was massive.
Overall, Love, Simon is a funny, refreshing, teen rom-com that follows in the rich tradition of the genre, whilst also bringing a timely and contemporary twist that is so brilliant see in major studio cinema, finally! It’s not perfect, but it’s undeniably important. Not every single popular or impactful LGBT+ film has to be revered as a world changing experience, they don’t all have to be as heavy hitting as things like Moonlight or Brokeback Mountain. There is room for all kinds of love and life stories in gay cinema, they don’t always have to involve tragedy and extreme adversity. It’s almost like life and romance can evoke the same kinds of diverse experiences no matter your sexual preference. Crazy, right? Who knew?