‘Everyone deserves a great love story’ is the tagline to Love, Simon – but films about queer teens on journeys of self-acceptance and first love don’t often make it into the mainstream.
In recent years only a few notable exceptions have been celebrated both critically and during awards season, namely, 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour, 2016’s Moonlight and last year’s Call Me by Your Name. Despite their Hollywood accolades and youth-crossover appeal, these films were all aimed at the festival and art-house circuits, and perhaps most tellingly at adult audiences. And that’s what makes Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, so groundbreaking – it’s the first gay teen romance produced and marketed by a major Hollywood studio targeted at a youth audience.
“I’m just like you, except I have one huge-ass secret – nobody knows I’m gay,” says a winning Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as the closeted Simon Spier. Simon is smart, dependable, he leads a privileged all-American high school life, complete with great friends (Katherine Burke, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Alexandra Shipp), a picture-perfect liberal family (Josh Duhamel as Simon’s father and Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mother) and a brand new car.
So maybe he doesn’t represent all queer youth, but he’s handsome and relatable. When a student, under the pen name Blue, comes out on the school gossip blog, it obviously rings home for Simon. No longer alone, Simon messages Blue, coming out to him – the boys bond and share their most private thoughts and feelings anonymously as they’re both going through the same thing. It’s here, in the hunt for Blue’s true identity, that Simon’s journey of self-acceptance and search for love begins via a messy path of blackmail, sabotage and a Whitney Houston fantasy song and dance sequence in which Simon imagines what life as an out gay guy will be like, which I wish didn’t end with Simon saying: “Well, maybe not that gay.”
Simon’s coming out struggles are beautifully mirrored with those of his classmate Ethan (played by Clark Moore). Ethan, who presents as more femme, is a more obvious target for school bullies than straight-passing Simon, but he is unabashedly proud of his sexuality, never apologising for who he is and never accepting of anyone’s pity.
Garner shines in a beautifully delivered, big and tearful Hollywood version of the speech Michael Stuhlbarg delivered in the gut wrenching third-act of Call Me by Your Name that managed to bring a few tears to this viewer’s eyes.
Love Simon, is directed by Greg Berlanti, best known as a US television titan, who has written and produced for Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters, Riverdale and most of DC Comics’ TV offerings, shows which all have a history of LGBTQ representation.
The film packs a surprising emotional wallop, with a number of small moments relating to the insecurity of being a teenager and the fear of coming out ringing particularly true for me. Screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger and the talented young cast perfectly capture the agony of those one-sided crushes that teenagers drown themselves in. Natasha Rothwell is hilarious in a scene-stealing turn as Simon’s fed-up drama teacher.
Love, Simon is charming and heartbreaking, fresh yet familiar, but is perhaps more important for the great strides it makes in queer visibility. There is something wonderfully subversive about using a coming out story as part of a mass-marketed, John Hughes-esque Hollywood teen movie.
Whilst no film can be a totem for all LGBTQ people, we have no doubt just how important this film will be for many queer youth today.
Gay Times gives Love, Simon – ★★★★★
Love, Simon is out now in the US, and will be in UK cinemas from 6 April.