Love, Simon most accessible mainstream gay teen romance since – well, ever
Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) plays the title character in Love, Simon, a closeted gay high school student who falls in love online.
Unless you’ve been perusing through the catalog of gay, teen, art-house cinema and stumbled across recent independent gems like Beach Rats or Princess Cyd, it’s probably safe to say the genre isn’t one that Hollywood has been in a rush to make in recent years. Even during a time when critically-acclaimed LGBTQ films like Call Me by Your Name and Moonlight are getting the attention they deserve, it’s only now that a major studio has stepped up to tell a more mainstream coming-of-age story led by a gay teenage character, who isn’t relegated to the supporting role of “gay best friend.”
Imagine if Damien (“I want my pink shirt back!”) from 2004’s Mean Girls was given his own romantic comedy; or Patrick (Ezra Miller) from 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower or that kid from Easy A who convinces Emma Stone to say they “lemon squeezed” so his sexual orientation would stay under wraps. Where would we be with gay films if more of these characters were given the opportunity to do what their straight counterparts have been doing for decades – acting awkwardly around their crushes, flirting to their heart’s content and sharing with audiences their own personal journey of what it’s like falling in love?
With Love, Simon, 20th Century Fox takes on the challenge by releasing the most accessible movie ever about the gay teenage experience. The outcome is so charming, authentic and emboldening, LGBTQ advocates should strike while the iron is hot and demand Marvel add a superhero movie headlining a gay main character to its franchise as soon as possible (unless, of course, you really think Deadpool’s sexual fluidity is going to be revealed more in the upcoming sequel).
In Love, Simon, which is adapted from the 2015 young-adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, actor Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) plays the title character, a closeted gay high school student who wants to tell someone about his “big-ass secret,” but is afraid how his friends and family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play his cool, progressive parents) will react to the news.
When fellow student “Blue” comes out anonymously online, Simon reaches out to him (also anonymously) in hopes of finding someone he can confide in. After months of intimate emails, both young men realize they have fallen in love with one another, but question whether or not they should reveal their identities. That decision it taken away from Simon when Martin (Logan Miller), an annoying theater classmate, discovers Simon’s private messages and threatens to out him if he doesn’t agree to help him land a date with new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp), a move that will also affect the lives of Simon’s best friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).
While things get a bit too Dawson’s Creek-y at times, director Greg Berlanti never allows the narrative’s melodramatic elements to overtake the more significant themes that make a film like Love, Simon a milestone for mainstream gay movies. Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, both scribes on TV’s This is Us, capture the confusion, self-consciousness, and internal chaos taking place inside Simon’s own little world with admiration for his character and for the situations he find himself taking on alone.
They also use humor in an effective and cathartic way, which expands Simon’s personality to a level where audiences can see he’s clever (but not too clever) and likeable, and still somewhat flawed. In one scene, he questions why gays are the only people who find it necessary to come out and imagines what it would be like if his heterosexual friends had to sit their parents down and tell them they are straight. It’s a subtle but funny sequence that fits in perfectly with the films other heartfelt moments and its message about acceptance and tolerance, which will probably speak volumes to real teens in the same complicated position.
Those same teenagers, however, should take note that Love, Simon – as easily accessible as it is – isn’t the only LGBTQ-friendly movie about teens that’s out there. One simply has to do a little research to find the indie versions of these stories basking on the fringes of cinema and waiting for someone to give them a chance. Still, Love, Simon is a gift wrapped up nicely in a bow and placed onto your lap, so take advantage.