Love, Simon tells the story of one teenager’s coming out and the struggle to find your identity as a queer person.
Let me tell you, I’m a crier—and not a pretty one, either. But when it comes to films, it takes something particularly special to cause me to audibly sob in a dark theater surrounded by strangers. In this case, that something was Love, Simon.
After unceremoniously missing the advance press screening weeks ago due to showing up at the wrong theater, the About Magazine staff was given the chance to see the film (thanks to gay actor Matt Bomer). The film, adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and directed by television writer/producer Greg Berlanti of Dawnson’s Creek fame, stars Nick Robinson as titular character Simon Spier, a high school senior who is so determined to hide his gayness that he goes to extraordinary lengths at the expense of those he loves. And if that story sounds familiar to any of you queer folks out there, that’s because it probably is.
Simon has a good life. He has parents who adore him (played by actors Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a little sister he actually likes. His friends, Leah Burke (Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why acclaim), Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp of X-Men), and Nick Eisner (fairly newcomer Jorge Lendeborge, Jr), have a Brat Pack-like ritual involving morning drives to school punctuated by classic rock, iced coffee, and stories about Nick’s dreams from the previous night. At school, he blends slightly into the foreground, neither exalted by his peers nor taunted by them). On the outside, one might presume that Simon Spier has a perfectly normal life. Only, he has one very big secret:
He’s a flaaaaaming gay.
After another closeted (read: masc) gay student (“Blue”) posts anonymously to the web that he’s keeping the same secret about himself that Simon is, Simon sends an email to the student’s alias Gmail account. And as the two begin to share their back-and-forths about all the good and all the bad that they have had to deal with since discovering their queerness, Simon finds himself falling in love with someone he’s not only never met, but whose identity is just as much a secret to Simon as Simon’s is to Blue. The forays that follow, however, are less lovely. When Simon’s schoolmate, Martin (Logan Miller) finds Simon’s open email account, he decides to blackmail Simon into helping him win over the affections of Abby, who until that point had only been a nuisance to her. In doing so, Simon must pry Abby and Nick away from one another, trick Leah into believing that Nick is in love with her, all while trying to discover the identity of his new love. However, when Martin is displeased with Simon’s efforts, he publicly outs Simon to the entire school. The domino effect to follow results in Simon losing his friends, coming out to his family, and Blue telling Simon the pressure is simply too much for them to continue their conversations.
However, the most compelling thing about this film is neither its story nor its characters. In fact, it’s what they present by telling story as characters—the feelings. I, as mentioned, found myself sobbing at what others may have thought were silly moments in the story. And why? Because I could relate to them.
True, most of us didn’t have the perfect, John Hughes upbringing bestowed upon Simon in the film. But when you scale back those elements and look at the intensity of the emotions the actors are conveying, it’s relatable. I mean, Christ, who doesn’t remember that panicked feeling of not knowing what the next day at school would bring as a pubescent teenager?
There’s a specific moment in the film when Simon decides to come out to Abby before anyone else in his life—a girl he’s known only a few short months. Later, when his best friend, Leah, asks why he came out to Abby instead of her, Simon explains that it’s because Leah has known Simon for so many years that he wasn’t ready for their entire dynamic to change, and that he wasn’t worried about that with Abby. This was reminiscent of my own coming out to a friend I’d known a handful of months who was also close to my oldest friend. The doubt of telling those closest to you certainly comes with a fear of rejection, but also with the fear of being unable to adapt to the new climate, whatever that may be. Then came the moment when his mother told Simon she’d been watching him for the last few years walking around as though he was scared to take a breath. In a tear-evoking moment on screen in the weeks following Simon’s outing, his mother tells him, “You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.” The simplicity of the scene is what creates its beauty. For those of us who were lucky enough to have parents that accepted us after coming out, it may flood the emotions back that we felt in that moment. And for those of who weren’t so fortunate, it’s a reminder that there is still good in the world, and that there are people who still love and care.
Everything from Simon’s father struggling to find the right things to say down to the moment when Simon is publicly ridiculed by his peers in front of the entire school following his coming out is a reminder of some part of what binds us together as queer people. In different ways and at different times, we’ve all been there: loved, ridiculed, scared, afraid to breathe, and maybe once or twice, if we’re lucky, in love. Sure, most of us didn’t have the good fortune of finding our one-true-love at eighteen just weeks before graduation after a stellar performance in an amateur production of Cabaret, but that’s cinematic hyperbole for you. It tends to pander to the pathos.
While true, Love, Simon is a film that isn’t a stark mirror of all of our experiences, there are little nuggets of hurt and heart in it that we can all relate to in some way. From the fear of what will come upon returning to school after being outed, to the emptiness in your gut that comes from having your friends tell you they don’t want anything to do with you. Our stories are all so unique, as is Simon’s, but none of them are perfect.
The cast (particularly Robinson, Garner, and Shipp) is stellar in bringing this movie to life. Their performances are honest and uncanny. They lack pretense while also still mustering up some of the nostalgia these YA books-turned-teen flicks tend to bring about. But the film is also well-written with a reserve of snide one-liners that fans are sure to be quoting for weeks to come, (“You look like you were gangbanged by a TJ Maxx”) and is extraordinarily directed. The ability that Berlanti possesses to make this film feel like a Breakfast Club for a new generation is nothing short of remarkable. And true, Simon may be a little bit more masculine than many of us watching the film or even reading this review, but that’s just Simon. He’s a representation of one kind of a gay person. And in the film, as a handful of other gay people are introduced, we learn that there are more effeminate gay men, as well as those who fall somewhere in between.
Where the film does lack, however, is in its inability to cast more LGBTQ actors and actresses. Certainly, Robinson makes an amazing Simon and plays the part in a way others probably could not, but it does beg the question: were there no gay kids in Hollywood that we could have asked to do this? Might they have been able to evoke emotion more strongly than Robinson based on their experiences? It seems a tad bit antiinflammatory of the film’s point to preach on about coming out and gayness when most of the cast is made up a cis-gender, heterosexual actors and actresses. That, however, does not change the fact that the film does hit the high note it ambitiously aims for, then drones off with a soft and relaxing decrescendo that will bring fans of the movie back to watch it again-and-again for years to come.
As a whole, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to Love, Simon, About Magazine is All About It.
Love, Simon is now playing at a theater near you.