As someone who had literally no idea they were gay through high school and most of university, and didn’t fully come out until a couple of years after graduation, watching Love, Simon was a somewhat surreal experience. It was a ridiculous mixture of pure exuberance and regret (and one I should probably unpack further at a later date), but it was also the breath of gay air I’ve been waiting for for, like, my entire life.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s wonderful YA novel Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the film follows Simon Spier (played sensitively and charmingly by Nick Robinson) as he falls in love with faceless mystery boy Blue via gmail while being blackmailed by a classmate threatening to out him if Simon doesn’t help him shack up with his best friend. It’s a classic good-hearted teen romantic comedy, except it’s gay as hell.
If you were in the closet in your teen years (or, like me, just completely oblivious), you likely never got to live our your teen movie rom-com. It’s a strange and kind of empty feeling. On the one hand, you might not have had to put up with the petty relationship drama all your straight friends were often getting themselves into, but it also feels like you were robbed of the full teenager experience. I didn’t know I was being robbed when it was happening, but now it’s gone and I can’t get it back. It’s no one’s fault as such, but it’s hard not to feel a bit salty about the whole situation. Like Simon says, it’s just an unfortunate byproduct of straight being the default.
My own coming out story wasn’t quite as dramatic and abrupt as Simon’s (though it did involve various levels of farcical drama, including several crudely modified greetings cards, a £100 bill for an emergency phone repair, and a meticulous level of organisation that comes with trying to come out to divorced parents without upsetting one of them over not being told first, especially when they both like to holiday hard and often). But Simon’s story was still relatable as hell. It’s little details, like the word ‘gay’ catching in Simon’s throat when he tries to say it out loud, that make the film feel like so much more than just a regular book adaptation cash grab. Instead, it feel like the start of something big.
Though it’s in a completely different league to other mainstream queer films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name in terms of filmmaking (it’s a teen rom-com, after all), the aftermath of Love, Simon has been quite unique. You only have to scroll through the film’s hashtag on Twitter to see firsthand the effect it’s had. Viewers young and old have been coming out to their friends and family. Parents are finally accepting their queer children after watching it together. LGBTQ celebrities are even buying out full screenings in their hometowns so teenagers who might need it can see it for free.
Love, Simon is a phenomenon, and not just because it’s the first teen film with a gay protagonist from a major studio (though we should really address that too: after years of remarkable filmmaking, this is the only one). Simon goes through some pretty bleak shit — it may be a comedy but he’s still blackmailed, bullied and outed — but the film brings with it an overwhelming volume of positive vibes. It’s sweet, funny and admittedly a little corny, and, most importantly, the hardships are just a hurdle to leap over before reaching a deliriously happy ending.
For too long, major studios have seen queer people as bait for awards season, and you don’t win awards without a certain amount of suffering. There’s always something in the way of queer characters achieving happiness. If it’s not AIDS, it’s murder or bullying or homophobic parents or unrequited love or moving on when the summer romance comes to a cold, hard end.
When you’re a film lover who’s also really into LGBTQ cinema, you quickly realise that, when trying to find something to watch, you have to tread carefully and consider your current personal wellbeing before pressing play. If you want a film that’ll make you smile you have to put up with its quality being subpar. If you want to watch a masterpiece that’s been getting rave reviews, you need to accept that you’re probably going to end up crying a lot, and then continue feeling miserable for the next few days. Love, Simon clearly didn’t get that memo. It’s simultaneously emotional, hilarious and deliciously triumphant. Clapping and cheering in the cinema is still one of the worst things a person can do, but weirdly it’s fine if they’re clapping for Simon in this film.
Something to be aware of is that Love, Simon’s story is deeply personal. Though my viewing experience was largely positive and flecked with only the smallest hits of regret (again, looking forward to examining what the hell that’s about), other people’s will be different. Those still in the closet might see it as the motivational push on the door that they’ve been looking for. For those unable to come out it might be tinged with sadness. People in less than ideal life situations should tread with caution, but everyone ought to get something out if it, no matter their background.
There aren’t really words to describe the feeling that comes with being gay and seeing a mainstream gay teenager leading a big studio film in the cinema for the first time. Without getting too sappy and gross, it’s a good feeling, and one that I’d very much like to feel again. One spring comedy obviously isn’t going to solve all the LGBTQ community’s problems overnight, but it could well inspire others, and start pushing the idea that there actually is no default when it comes to who you love.
So if you’re queer in one way or another or cisgender and heterosexual, have been out for years, are planning to come out soon or don’t think you ever will, and believe in people getting to see characters and stories that represent them and their lives, you owe it to yourself to see Love, Simon, in the cinema, at least once, because this is just the beginning.
Love, Simon is in UK cinemas now.