Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

March 18, 2018

A Gay Man’s Take on Love, Simon

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For a while, Love, Simon flew under my radar. Once I first saw trailers for it though, I became intrigued — but also cautious. I didn’t know how a teenage romance movie would handle a gay protagonist. The film, directed by Greg Berlanti and written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Bergerm, could easily go so wrong. Luckily, my fears have been dispelled.  Love, Simon reflects the anxieties of coming out in our world today with a solid teenage drama to carry the message.

Love, Simon stars Nick Robinson as the titular Simon Spier, a high school student living in a model nuclear family. He has a close circle of friends and participates in the school’s drama productions. He has a secret though; he has not revealed to anyone that he’s gay. One day, a post in the school’s anonymous confessions web page sets everyone ablaze. There’s a closeted gay kid at school, who only signs his post with the pseudonym “Blue.” Simon reaches out with a different email and his own pseudonym, “Jacques.” The two begin to build more and more of a rapport, with Simon thinking about who Blue might actually be. One day though, another kid named Martin (Logan Miller) finds Simon’s emails left open on a computer. Martin threatens to out Simon, unless Simon helps him score a date with one of his friends. Simon has to juggle an growing tangle of relationships as he struggles to keep everything from falling apart.

One of the best things about the movie is how the characters are built. For years, media about high school have been dominated by tropes Saved By The Bell and High School Musical. Love, Simon steers away from many those tired tropes. Simon himself feels like a relatable, average kid. He likes going to parties with his friends, he spends time with his family, he has a good relationship with the school authorities. He’s a kind person who grapples with anxieties that many people can relate to. Meanwhile, his three friends, played by Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., all have distinct personalities. They feel like many people I knew in high school, and give the film a sense of sincerity.

Simon’s family further helps to ground the story. His mother, played by Jennifer Garner, works as a therapist, and in her free time devotes her efforts to social justice marches. His father, played by Josh Duhamel, is a well-meaning guy who’s not afraid to show his soft side, but still has a tendency to tell the wrong jokes at the wrong time. Simon’s little sister, Nora (Talitha Bateman), aspires to be a culinary master, and often prepares meals for the family, some of which are stomached purely out of love. The family shares banter back and forth, but also expresses their support for one another. Between Simon’s friends and his family, we have a solid emotional base that powers the heart of the movie.

And then we have Martin, the guy blackmailing Simon. Martin is obnoxious and grating in all the right ways. He doesn’t feel outright evil or cruel. Instead his selfishness feels more casual, which curdles the stomach even more. He speaks and acts without thinking about how it will hurt others around him. In short, he feels real. Logan Miller plays the role with vigor, and the story handles the character well. Most importantly, even though he later expresses regret for some of his actions, the story doesn’t “redeem” him. It’s crystal clear that his actions carry consequences that he cannot fix with apologies, and that’s important.

The rest of the supporting characters round out our cast. You have a couple of bullies who actually use language you’d hear in a high school environment. They’re brutal and nasty, not cleaned-up as is often seen in films like this. There’s also Ethan, who has been openly gay for a while. In a way, he’s a foil to Simon; Simon is a typical kind of guy, while Ethan… well, when he came out, nobody was surprised. You have a vice principal, a drama teacher and other people you’d expect to see in a high school movie. So sure, it does sometimes play into stereotypical high school movie. Every now and then things get a little cheesy and “out there,” and it detracts a bit from the film. But far more things do work rather than don’t work, so the flaws get outweighed.

With all these characters assembled, the plot flows along with fluid motion. One thing leads to the next in a logical pattern. Besides the tension between Simon and Martin, the plot also hinges on the identity of Blue. It’s like a “whodunit” of gayness. I followed the roller coaster of ups and downs. I laughed and I cried (a lot), because so much of the film resonated true with me. It’s thanks to this well-built story that it earns the right to talk about such a crucial, intimate topic.

Love, Simon manages to capture so much of what it’s like to be young and gay in 2018. For one thing, technology has enabled relationships to blossom long-distance. That same technology can also threaten our privacy, though — a special threat for people who, for whatever reason, are not ready to come out yet.

It also captures how society is far more tolerant than it was even a decade ago, but being gay is still considered somewhat “abnormal.” It changes how people perceive you, consciously or otherwise. Simon knows people around him will support him, but he fears the way his life could change beyond his control. The film shows how it can be an awkward conversation. It even demonstrates how being outed against your will can hurt, a lot. That’s something I experienced too… being outed without your consent is not a light action. It’s a gross violation of privacy, and a dramatic violation of trust. Love, Simon treats it like that.

Alongside its dramatic elements though, Love, Simon also brims with joy. It’s heartwarming and fun. Some of the best parts are Simon’s fantasies. For example, he pictures Blue as different guys around school. There’s also the advertised scenario, “What if straight people had to come out?” My favorite segment is Simon thinking that he can at least come out at college. He proceeds to envision his dorm room covered in pride materials, and dances down the staircase.  People in rainbow shirts follow him to the yard in a big spectacle — then he returns to reality. “Okay, maybe not that gay.”

Love, Simon stands head and shoulder above other teenage romances. It deals out both drama and fun, while also giving a window into what it’s like being gay in the United States today. Sometimes it gets a little too cheesy for its own good, but at heart the film beats true. It was an absolute delight to watch, and it’s definitely something that a lot of people need right now.

David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at dgouldthorpe@cornellsun.com.