The ‘First-Ever’ Rom-Com With Gay Protagonists, 'Love, Simon': A Needed, Imperfect Film
Victoria Anders | March 23, 2018, 12:22 a.m.
“Love, Simon” opens, as many others, with a “typical teenager” going through high school.
“I have a totally, perfectly normal life,” Simon, the protagonist, says. “Except I have one huge-ass secret."
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) loves his family and their Netflix nights, has supportive (stereotypically suburbanite millennial) friends, and goes to a school with a welcoming, try-too-hard vice principal (certainly not everyone’s experience), but not without homophobic bullies and a small student population that’s anything other than straight and cis.
Of course, the one thing that makes him different from ‘the norm’ is that he is gay. And so, his coming out story begins.
“Love, Simon” is a rewrite of the classic, overused romantic comedy framework. Person A likes person B. Person B doesn’t know. Person A wins over person B. Except here, person A and B are the same gender. And don’t know each other’s identity.
The big news at the beginning of Simon’s senior year is an anonymous letter published by a student known only as “Blue” on the school gossip blog, revealing that he is gay but doesn’t know how, or if, he can come out.
“A lot of my life is great, except nobody knows I'm gay,” Blue says.
Hit with the realization that someone else feels the same as he does, Simon immediately emails Blue with his revelation, calling himself “Jacques” (“Jacques à dit” is the French version of ‘Simon says’).
The Gmail pen-pals quickly become much more than that, but their identities remain unknown until the end of the film, not without a couple cases of mistaken identity in Simon’s quest to find Blue. The internet becomes each emailer’s “safe place,” but Simon seeks much more trust and openness than Blue is willing to return.
The family dynamics surrounding Simon echo those portrayed in “Call Me By Your Name” — incredibly supportive parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel), openly talking about masturbation while naively (and heteronormatively) assuming that Simon is imagining his girlfriend Gigi Hadid.
All of the film’s characters play up the stereotype of their role a little too much. The drama teacher is a bit too dramatic (and ultimately channels this into publicly humiliating the aforementioned bullies), the school nerd remains too laughable and outrageous, the class couple kisses a bit too often and strongly, and Simon is too terrible at hiding his lack of desire for girls.
Most of all, there are too many instances of people saying the wrong thing to Simon as he comes out.
The classic tropes become intriguingly complex as Simon is forced to hide his identity for fear of it being revealed on someone else’s terms, a battle he ultimately loses, and during which, he hurts most of his friends. His parents also require some time to figure out the right thing to say once Simon reveals his secret.
“I am still the same Simon,” he tells them, without actually believing it himself yet. His dad holds regret for not realizing this fact about his son, while his mom regrets not asking him about it. It takes a lot of reflection, pain, and courage (with much of the support system he begins with lost) for Simon to finally come out for himself, in his own words.
Though this portion of his journey is the shortest and least fleshed out in the film, Robinson strongly portrays the “ferris wheel” of emotions involved.
In some ways, the movie shows that the struggle of coming out exists among people in all social situations and climates. Having a relatively diverse group of friends and a supportive family and school environment will not guarantee a smooth coming out process.
It delves into the world of coming out, particularly in high school when the last thing anyone wants is to be marked as ‘different,’ in the age of constant gossip and information spread throughout school, reaching even your siblings and teachers. But it also undermines the experiences of those who don’t have many of those privileges as they come to terms with their sexuality.
It’s certainly not the first film with gay protagonists, not even the first released this year. But, it may just be the first film taking on the money-making, low-risk, mainstream rom-com genre with a same-sex romance.
Perhaps, “Love, Simon” will bring the trials and strength in coming to terms with and revealing your sexuality, or any other aspect of your identity, at your own pace and in your own manner, to a younger audience that hasn’t experienced these on-screen through its otherwise arthouse predecessors.