Love, Simon falls into two categories of film that are often disparaged by critics: it’s cheesy, and it’s about a high school romance. Cliché and populated with a cast of attractive twenty-something actors pretending to be relatable high school students, the film is exactly what you would expect of a typical rom-com and yet, the protagonist is hiding something – he’s gay.
An adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s YA bestseller, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), the film comes as the first major-studio release that recounts a young man’s coming out story. LGBT+ narratives are being told more frequently in film now, but usually for arthouse consumption – Twentieth Century Fox’s endeavour to tell a gay teenager’s story in a comedy marks the first big-name studio to do so with a widespread international release.
it’s refreshing – and comforting, for young LGBT+ people in particular – to be able to sit in a cinema and be told that gay people can have it all
This is, in itself, a big deal – I would go as far as to call it ground-breaking, particularly given the film’s content. Where LGBT+ stories are usually restricted for adult audiences, and typically have dark or upsetting themes (don’t get me wrong, these are important and worth watching too), Love, Simon is explicitly a high school rom-com aimed at teenagers, gay or straight. From the film’s opening voice-over, we are aligned with the protagonist as we are given an insight into his ‘normal’ life, with his cute little sister, married parents, cool, liberal friends, and big suburban American home. Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is, we are told, “just like you” – except he’s gay.
This might seem like a reach, considering how many LGBT+ kids suffer globally, and how homosexuality is still a criminal offence in many countries. Given that, obviously, most gay people aren’t white, cisgender, middle-class, conventionally attractive men with empathetic friends and left-leaning families.
But I wouldn’t say that this lack of realism makes the film a bad one – any political statement that the makers of Love, Simon are trying to make is subtle, and to that end, successful. In a world where most news stories we hear about the treatment of the LGBT+ community are about discrimination or hate crimes, it’s refreshing – and comforting, for young LGBT+ people in particular – to be able to sit in a cinema and be told that gay people can have it all: the stereotypical high school experience and the cute boyfriend; the joy of telling people who you really are alongside the pain. Hopefully, films like this will pave the way for more stories about LGBT+ teenagers – including ones who don’t have Simon’s traditional cute white boy appearance or wealthy family.
we’re given a protagonist who’s afraid yet unashamed, proud but conscious of his difference
There is something powerful, I think, in having a film that makes the ordinary rom-com about a gay student. The drama is centred around Simon’s email conversations with ‘Blue’, a guy at his school who’s also gay, and how they fall in love despite not knowing each other’s true identities. It’s a trope that has been used time and time again in Hollywood; having it be about a same-sex romance might seem like a small, natural progression for LGBT+ representation onscreen, but it’s a huge step forward. Unfortunately, the emails are found by Simon’s classmate, who threatens to leak them – the focus of the film, however, remains not on the blackmail plot but on Simon’s relationship with Blue. Funny, honest and touching, their emails offer the kind of comradery and understanding that Simon has clearly craved, despite his friends and family’s best intentions.
Here, in the online narration of his ‘gay awakening’, is the message that makes this film so special – and inspiring, if you’re a questioning teenager and this is the first time you’ve ever seen yourself represented onscreen. Acceptance is a key theme in the film, but not nearly as much as self-acceptance: we’re given a protagonist who’s afraid yet unashamed, proud but conscious of his difference. It is this (plus the soundtrack, which features a great compilation of pop tunes) that we should take away from Love, Simon, and that I hope filmmakers will seek to imitate in the future, providing both entertaining stories and characters will that engage and inspire LGBT+ people (and allies) of all ages and backgrounds.bookmark me