Do you ever wonder if young gay people today have as hard a time coming out as they did a decade (or more) ago? The film Love, Simon seems to posit that even though gay culture has gone mainstream, it’s still quite angst-worthy.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s YA novel, Love, Simon tells the story of a senior in high school Simon (Nick Robertson) who has a nurturing family and a tight knit group of friends, and yet he can’t seem to find a way to tell them he’s gay. In fact, he’s told nobody even though he says he’s known he’s gay since Harry Potter and his magic wand gave a thirteen-year-old Simon some exciting, revealing dreams. The course of the movie sees him befriend and fall for a fellow closeted classmate he meets through a kind of Post Secrets-esque website. They exchange anonymous emails to each other, which helps Simon come to terms with his own sexuality and how he sees himself through a gay lens. He’s getting up the courage to tell the people he loves in his life that he’s gay when an obnoxious classmate Martin (Logan Miller) discovers Simon’s email exchange and blackmails him. Martin demands Simon hook him up with Simon’s friend, or else he’ll share the emails with the school. Simon panics and begins to create a mess of lies in order to maintain the secret of his sexuality.
The film is very cleverly directed by Greg Berlanti, who knows teen angst well, having written on Dawson’s Creek, created Everwood and The Flash. Seriously, look at the guy’s IMDB: he basically rules the CW. Berlanti, himself gay, spearheaded a lot of the breakthrough gay story lines on Dawson’s Creek so he’s incredibly skilled at telling nuanced coming of age coming out stories. At their heart, his superhero shoes are about young people with big secrets to keep. Simon’s story is told with Berlanti’s signature heart and humor.
There’s a fantastic scene where Simon imagines his new “out” life when he goes to college in Los Angeles, full of jazz hands and kids dancing in rainbow colors like a Gap ad. Berlanti does these scenes as skillfully as he does the more intimate, awkward moments, like one crushing one between Simon and his best female friend Leah (Katherine Langford). The director is also served very well by the screenplay (written by This is Us writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker), which doesn’t knock you over the head with platitudes. Sort of like Call Me By Your Name, this has possibly some of the most enviable scenes parents responding to a child’s coming out that have been seen of screen.
This is where the story hits the skids a bit… perhaps it’s too enviable. In a film that really hits some high points in showing high school life in a realistic way, a lot of elements in Simon’s life feel like ones of a lot of unacknowledged privilege. Simon does address his great family and friends, but there truly is no risk that his family would kick him out of the house and his friends don’t seem like they’d really look at him any differently. In high school, no matter what your privilege, sometimes stakes can feel high, but it just feels inevitable that Simon will be better than just fine.
Even though Simon kind of has it all, the audience still roots for him because Robertson is just so cute. In fact, almost every character in this film is cute. Jennifer Garner is wonderfully mushy as Simon’s mother, while Josh Duhamel has dopey, sweet father bonding moments. As a side note, Natasha Rothwell is possibly the best part of this film as the seen-it-all theatre teacher Ms. Albright. She has some of the funniest lines in the whole film and even just her withering facial expressions bring serious laughs. The only slightly sour acting notes were Miles Heizer as Simon’s classmate – he just needs to stop being cast as a teenager because he’s 24 – and Tony Hale as the annoying assistant principal (who plays the same kid of over-eager role he’s played too much already and this time comes off as bordering on predatory and pushy).
In Love, Simon, a happy ending just feels like a given. There were a couple small surprises but ultimately there was no real threat. Truly bad things don’t feel possible in the world of the movie and that’s fine. It’s a rom com for the liberally, enlightened teenager. It’s a truly best-case-scenario coming out film. If you want a a young adult coming out story with more realism and stakes, go see the highly underrated Pariah instead.