Love, Simon Review
Love, Simon is the story of teenager Simon Spier, a boy “just like you,” except for one huge secret: no one knows he is gay. Based on the book, ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, the film is written by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, (This is Us and About A Boy), and directed by Greg Berlanti. Berlanti (a gay man himself) has created, written, directed or produced some of my favorite TV series (Everwood, Dawson’s Creek), and has now seemingly inherited heaven and earth as both creator and executive producer of several shows on the CW, including Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Riverdale, The Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow.
The film opens with Simon, played endearingly by Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer, Everything, Everything), describing his life: his loving parents and younger sister that he “actually likes,” his three closest friends, Abby, Nick and Leah, and their routine of drinking too much iced coffee, watching 90’s movies and eating way too many carbs. Watching Simon drive his friends to school while dancing and singing in the car, Love, Simon has a very John Hughes vibe to it. Berlanti sets the stage for you to initially be jealous of this loving and seemingly content teenager. But despite his supportive surroundings, Simon struggles with the secret that he is gay. He envisions coming out to his family and friends, but he doesn’t. He’s afraid. One of the film’s funnier sequences is when Simon imagines all of his straight friends having to “come out” to their families. He plans to coast a bit longer until high school is over, and imagines embracing gay culture when he goes off to college (this includes a dream dance sequence to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ that reminded me a bit of JGL dancing around in 500 Days of Summer). Anyone who has ever been in the closet at any point understands what it’s like to fear coming out, to rationalize that you are just going to “wait until…” before you finally tell someone else you are gay, even those with a supportive family and friends like Simon.
But things finally change once Simon reads a post online by a fellow closeted gay student, written under the pseudonym, ‘Blue.’ Simon reaches out to Blue, confessing his own situation, signing his email as ‘Jacques’ (a reference to ‘Jacques a dit,’ meaning ‘Simon Says’ in French). The two boys soon develop a connection, confiding in each other what they are unable to tell their family and friends. Each gives the other courage, as Blue becomes determined to tell his family, and Simon finally comes out to his friend, Abby. With each email exchange, Simon imagines who at school might be Blue. The beauty of this method of storytelling is that it allows Simon (and the viewer) to imagine his love interest as any boy – white, black, jock, musician, nerd – we watch, hoping just as Simon does, that each person will be the one for him. As he grows a little braver, Simon also gets his heart broken repeatedly each time he finds out a potential ‘Blue’ is not the one. He envies Ethan, the only out gay kid at school, who despite being openly mocked by bullies, is still open in his gayness in front of other students.
During this entire internal struggle, someone finally forces Simon’s hand: Martin (Logan Miller), a fellow cast member in the school’s production of Cabaret. Martin sees Simon’s email exchanges with Blue, and decides to take screen-shots of them for blackmail. Martin has a crush on Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp), and he wants Simon’s help, using his knowledge as leverage. Martin could have been just a stereotypical jerk, but his character is actually way more fleshed out than that. In a scene where Martin, Abby and Simon are all rehearsing lines at a local Waffle House, Martin gets a sad and distressed Abby to very publicly exclaim to the rest of the diners that she deserves a “goddamn superhero” after telling the boys about her parent’s divorce. In that moment, Abby actually sees something admirable in Martin, before everything quickly goes to hell.
Martin’s attempt to woo Abby ultimately fails, after a huge public gesture much like Heath Ledger’s in 10 Things I Hate About You. Simon is outed online to his entire school by a humiliated Martin looking for someone else to take the spotlight. This is cringe worthy, but it is also completely understandable behavior. Martin isn’t evil; he is immediately remorseful and goes to apologize to Simon, who he now views as a friend. But in one of the film’s most memorable scenes Simon argues that, “I’m supposed to be the one that decides when and where and who knows; that’s supposed to be my thing!” He’s right. Martin has taken that away from him. Simon takes this opportunity to finally come out to his family over Christmas break. His parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), along with his little sister, Nora (Talitha Bateman) all respond awkwardly, albeit with good intentions. They don’t always say the perfect thing, his dad makes dumb jokes that are insensitive, and his little sister even suggests that he could just “pretend not to be gay.” This feels like a real family. They love him, but no one is perfect. Their initial mistakes, and their subsequent attempts to make it right later on, feel genuine.
While the main focus of the story is its titular character, Love, Simon also does a decent job of fleshing out its other teenage protagonists with realistic struggles and insecurities. Simon’s best friends are all dealing with their own issues of finding love and acceptance. His friend Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), seems like a confident jock, but he is just as unsure of himself in pursuing their friend, Abby, while at the same time Simon mistakes the actions of his best friend Leah (13 Reasons Why star, Katherine Langford) for jealousy, and he attempts to set her up with Nick. After he is outed to his entire school, Simon’s friends are hurt. He lied to them, manipulating them out of fear that Martin would reveal his secret. Leah comes clean: she actually has harbored feelings for Simon all these years, not their friend Nick. And while he was working up the courage to tell Leah he was gay, she in turn was struggling to reveal her own feelings for him. This is not a new predicament when it comes to friends and teenagers, falling in and out of love and hurting each other’s feelings. But showing it in terms of being gay is what’s new and meaningful. Having it be a part of the conversation, and normalizing a gay teenager as the hero and love interest of the story, is what makes Love, Simon so worthwhile.
I’ve read some criticism that the film is not edgy or “gay enough.” But I think most teenagers are not shown enough examples of gay characters experiencing love and acceptance, as they also face insecurity and struggle in film. Audiences are not given enough gay characters that they can see as worthy of love and acceptance. Growing up, I never saw anyone on TV or in film that I identified with who was not completely heterosexual. It took years, until I was almost finished with college, before I started to see characters on TV or in movies that were gay or bisexual who were portrayed positively or in a healthy relationship. One of my top picks for 2017 was the beautiful film, Call Me By Your Name. Love, Simon is by far a much more mainstream, teen-focused story, but I sincerely hope we will continue to see more representation like it on screen in years to come. Working on Love, Simon has since inspired two of its own actors, Keiynan Lonsdale and Joey Pollari (as well as the real-life younger brother of Nick Robinson) to come out publicly. While Simon’s story is not perfect, he most definitely does deserve “a great love story.”
But getting back to Simon: once Blue learns Simon’s identity, and witnesses the aftermath of him being outed at school, he retreats and cuts off communication. Simon is devastated. In the film’s final act, he attempts to repair his situation. He talks to his family. He reaches out and apologizes to his friends. And he concocts his own grand gesture: putting himself out there (on his terms) for all of his school to know, and inviting Blue to meet him on the ferris wheel after the school play at the school’s carnival. Simon’s friends finally make amends and they are there to cheer him on. We wait as Simon rides the ferris wheel, again and again, alone. It is a pretty brutal scene. Martin, feeling bad about his actions, pretends to be Blue, but finally just buys Simon one more ride on the ferris wheel before Blue finally arrives. Blue turns out to be fellow student and jock, Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale) whom Simon had originally hoped was his crush at the start of the film. We see these two characters ride the ferris wheel and kiss, (repeatedly), to the cheers of their classmates. But this is not the end. The film finishes much like it started: with Simon picking up his friends before school, only this time, buying an extra ice coffee for Bram before they all drive off together. This act alone creates a sense of routine and normalcy; it shows us a group of teenagers: happy, blasting music, and driving off together into the distance.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro