Love, Simon (trailer) came out in theaters this weekend. I almost never see movies in the theater, but when I heard about this movie about a week ago, I knew I wanted to see it. Part of me (maybe a generally submerged part) is a sappy romantic. The movie is a comedic teen romance, and as several critics point out, is predictably scripted as per the genre. However it seemed to offer something almost surprisingly unique for a mainstream film – a gay central character.
Simon, 17, lives a relatively affluent suburban life with a happy nuclear American family and a group of close supportive high school friends. He’s carried the secret of his sexual orientation for several years, but one day learns from a friends that there is another, anonymous kid at his school. Boldly he strikes up a conversation on-line with “Blue” and gradually the two anonymous boys confide in each other and grow closer. Neither knows the other’s identity, and Simon spends much of the movie wondering if this guy or that is Blue. Events soon become more complicated when a scheming classmate captures screenshots of Simon’s conversations and threatens to out Simon if Simon doesn’t set the boy up with one of his friends. Eventually Simon is outed against his will, two bullies openly taunt him at school, friends who feel betrayed by his behavior become distant, and Blue retreats, not ready to be out himself.
Each of these setbacks is reversed in time. His friends return. The bullies are thoroughly reprimanded at school. Christmas morning he comes out to his parents who offer warm support. And he finally meets Blue in a sappy
climax. It’s not a necessarily overly creative movie plot-wise, but the acting
is passable to good, and comedy adds balance to the awkward and more serious
moments of the film.
Unfortunately there is likely to be some pushback about this movie. Anytime the actually-normal normalcy of gay life is portrayed publicly there are some who take that as an opportunity to decry the downfall of the family and other sordid evils that will befall
because there was a short non-sensual gay kiss in a mainstream movie. America will get
attacked; the “gay agenda” will be denounced; and stern moral warnings may flow
from some people who frankly probably make God (should s/he exist or even give a
damn) ashamed to be associated with them. Hollywood
One of the perks of the film is the portrayal of gay life as very average most of the time. It is not all flashy, flamboyant, and queer theory. One sympathetic reviewer called it quite “vanilla”, but noted that that wasn’t necessarily bad, especially since vanilla might be all the general heterosexual masses in polarized
might be ready for. At upwards of 4% of the population, and youth claiming
non-heterosexuality at perhaps even higher rates, being LGBT is quite normal. The normalcy on
non-heterosexuality will rustle some feathers, but it is not only factually
accurate, but is a necessary social perspective for our society to be more
equal and inclusive. America
The film dealt with some issues that a straight romantic film couldn’t, one being the collateral damage of the closet. We suspect earlier in the movie, and learn definitively later, that one of Simon’s best friends is in love with him. A life-long thoughtful friend, her heart is broken when she learns that Simon doesn’t see her that way and he tries to set her up with another mutual friend. The innocence with which Simon is unaware of her feelings for him could be the experience of any naïve teen, but it is practically a hallmark of young gay men oblivious to the interest of their female friends. The movie plays on the stereotypical, though probably at least partly true, theme that the innocence and romantic distance of young gay guys seems to attract the girls’ interest even more. Unfortunately for the straight female friend, like other closeted gay boys, Simon is daydreaming about guys.
Though not particularly well developed in the movie, Love, Simon also deals with the struggle of self acceptance that is one universal ritual that precedes the (voluntary) coming out experience. Really, Simon has the most ideal environment possible for coming out – he lives in upper middle class comfort, has warm open-minded loving parents, good looks, and fits comfortably in his high school social world. Even so, he struggles with coming out for some time, and it is only through meeting another closeted student on-line that he begins the process. In fact, the two help each other break the secrecy and isolation of the closet in a mutually-affirming way. This mirrors my own coming out experience, and probably that of many others – through connection with other LGBT people, we break the isolation that fuels the fear that suppresses self-acceptance.
For straight audiences, hopefully the film offers a few minutes of reflection about what the struggle for self-acceptance can be like and the transformation that occurs between regarding sexuality as a combustible secret and a personal asset. The movie takes a minute to take a playful jab at the fact that straight people never have to come out to their families or friends. I might add that while straight youth thereby dodge the discomfort of the process, perhaps they lose something in life experience by not having to deeply confront who they really are and how authentically they want their inner reality to match their outer persona.
For Simon to come out, it meant exchanging the safety of his false heterosexual image (or asexual image at best) for the freedom to be himself at all times and in all places. The exchange of safety for liberation almost invariably comes with a cost in the real world, but for Simon it is transient and minimal in the film. In short, he had it way easier than when I went to high school and probably easier than many kids today in certain communities.