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At the very beginning of Love, Simon, our titular hero explains to the audience that, “I’m just like you." This seemingly innocuous phrase is often a given for audiences who watch teen movies, particularly if they’re white, male, or heterosexual. However, it’s a whole different story if you’re gay.
Ever since Sal Mineo’s character struck up a friendship with James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, movies like Clueless and Mean Girls have continued to relegate homosexual movie characters to the role of punching bag or gay best friend, presenting them as mere stereotypes.
Love, Simon promises to be unlike other poor examples in the past by asking two important questions; "what happens if the leading man is gay? and "what if his sexuality is not rooted solely in either comedy happening at his expense, or in melodrama in order to make an 'important film'?"
For the first time in history, Love, Simon will challenge mainstream audiences with these very questions. In the past, films containing LGBTQ narratives have been pushed into fringe, indie territory. Love, Simon aims to redefine what major studio movies are capable of, what they look like, and how they make the entire theatergoing public - regardless of sexual orientation - feel inside.
Love, Simon follows the story of a teenage boy with “one huge ass secret.” Afraid to come out of the closet at school, Simon Spier’s world is knocked off the straight and narrow when a fellow student anonymously reveals that they’re gay. Desperate to find someone else like him, Simon strikes up an online romance with this mysterious figure who’s only known as “Blue," but real-life blues hit hard and fast when Simon’s classmate discovers their correspondence and threatens to out him as gay.
Coming out is a scary and deeply personal process, so it’s no surprise that fear motivates Simon above all else at first. Mainly, how his friends and family may treat him differently upon discovering his secret. Sadly, our hero can’t draw upon a lifetime of studio movies for advice or inspiration in this case. Most of the queer stories that young people like Simon have seen on the big screen so far usually end in misery or death.
What’s remarkable about Love, Simon then is how it takes the painful process of coming out and builds a whole movie around it in a uniquely positive way. Teenagers need role models most during this time of confusion - yet young queer people have mostly been deprived of this kind of inspiration until now. Coming out is never clear-cut, but by experiencing Simon’s journey alongside him, this vulnerable process can be redefined as one of release and self-discovery thanks to sensitive scripting and Nick Robinson’s earnest portrayal of Simon himself.
Everyone experiences coming out differently and many won’t choose the same path that Simon does, but at least now teenagers finally have someone to compare themselves to, taking ownership of the process in a way that’s meaningful to them. Detractors have criticized the “everyman” quality that Robinson brings to the role, arguing that he doesn’t represent the experience of all gay teenagers. However, every young person who questions their sexuality can relate to at least part of Simon’s story and that’s more important than people might realize.
LGBT representation is slowly improving, most notably on the small screen thanks to the legacy of shows like Glee and numerous programs on the CW, yet mainstream role models for teenagers are still hard to come by in cinemas. At one point in Love, Simon, our hero declares, “I’m done living in a world where I don’t get to be who I am,” and this is usually the point where gay characters start spiralling into self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Here though, Simon’s plan is a joyful cause for celebration rather than a horrendous loss of life.
It’s disgraceful that we’ve taken so long to arrive at this point, which is exactly why Love, Simon is a milestone worth celebrating. If more studio films had portrayed the queer experience in a positive, rainbow-filled light before, then perhaps the lives of countless young people could have been improved already. Sobering statistics from The Trevor Project remind us that LGB youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teenagers, and while it would be reductive to blame Hollywood for this entirely, the likes of Simon can still do some good, showing teens who struggle with oppression and suicidal thoughts that they’re not alone.
If Love, Simon can make the same kind of impact on the box office that it will on the lives of young gay audiences, then it’s entirely possible that the film’s legacy will continue long after the teenagers who love it have all grown up. Hollywood has always been notoriously wary of pushing minority groups up front and center, but with this and the success of Black Panther, the future of cinema could be more inclusive than ever before.
Realistically though, we’ll only start seeing LGBT movies regularly at the multiplex if the likes of Love, Simon can prove that they’re profitable. It might seem unfair, but the pressure is on for Greg Berlanti’s film to deliver at the box office, and if it fails to do so, then Hollywood could use this as an excuse to stop producing more queer movies in the future. It might sound preposterous, but something similar happened following the failure of Elektra and Catwoman when Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter questioned the profitability of female superhero movies. Fortunately, the overwhelming success of Wonder Woman proved that these concerns were unfounded and Love, Simon could do the same for LGBT films.
As the first gay movie of its kind, the pressure is also on for Love, Simon to represent the various kinds of queer people who have felt misrepresented in mainstream cinema up until now. In this respect, Love, Simon doesn’t always hit the mark. It’s clear that the studio deliberately designed Simon to be the classic all-American boy, taking great care to avoid offending audiences who might resent more extreme forms of queerness. It’s also important to question why Love, Simon focuses on a cis, white gay man while so many other ethnicities continue to be marginalized even in the margins of indie cinema. Simon may tell us from the outset that he’s just like us, but clearly, that doesn’t apply to every member of the audience.
These are all important discussions to be had and something that future studio movies will need to tackle with more sensitivity moving forward, but Love, Simon is already a vital step in the right direction (and critics are responding with a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Anyone who doubts that need look no further than a recent article by TIME, which argued that the fight for equality had already been won. It’s exactly this kind of ignorance which makes films like Love, Simon so important.
When we first meet Simon, he says “I’m just like you” to remind mainstream audiences that gay people are no different from anyone else, but for those who are gay themselves, these four simple words represent something even more important. In a world where queer stories are usually defined by pain and suffering, the high-school hijinks of Love, Simon are groundbreaking in their relative normalcy, providing gay audiences with the kind of happy ending that they themselves long for in their daily lives. As you watch Simon become both the role model that he needs and the inspiration that we so sorely need him to be, you’ll see exactly why Greg Berlanti’s film is the most important movie that you’ll watch this year.
For more film opinion, read why we think Kendrick Lamar should play a villain in the 'Black Panther' sequel.