It seems a long time coming for “Love, Simon” to be the first gay teen movie from a major film studio. While I don’t think I’m necessarily the target audience (as a far-from-teenage gay man), I really wanted to see it.
I’ve watched a lot of gay films in my time, including many at lesbian and gay film festivals (back then, they weren’t so inclusive to say LGBTIQ). The reason why the festivals existed is that we wanted to see representations of ourselves in movies. We wanted to see our histories portrayed. Mainstream LGBT films were rare, and we’d watch the arthouse films, the films from smaller studios, the foreign films with gay lives and themes.
But they were all so serious. Thinking back to being a gay teenager and a gay man in my early twenties, I resented that I was recommended to delve into subtexts: to look back to camp films with Bette Davis and older films with possible gay characters. In the meantime, I watched films like the Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, and made them my own: I celebrated outsiders without those outsiders clearly identifying themselves. And while I loved discovering a gay culture, and gay characters in films like My Beautiful Launderette or Pedro Almodovar’s films, I really wish that my young gay self could have snuck into see a film like “Love, Simon”.
And though many of the more visible films in the last decades have been gritty and realistic and had important things to say – “Philadelphia”, “Brokeback Mountain” and the various films or even TV shows to address HIV and its consequences – I haven’t seen something so sweet, plain and mainstream.
Of course, a film like this couldn’t really have existed before now. This film really is of a moment when there is enough LGBT visibility and acceptance that a sweet, fairly chaste film about a gay teenager could be made, where friends, family and schoolmates are accepting, where bullies are minor. So, hurrah for that.
And while the film was a bit too perfect and tension-free, Simon’s family being ridiculously well-off (and accepting and good-looking) and the sentiments and situations felt a bit conventional, I thought the script was funny and well-paced, and the actors believable, honest and charismatic.
And I remember being Simon: the struggles to come out, telling my first friend I was gay, the desire to express myself and confess myself and to make a connection.. with someone. As Simon wonders who else could be gay, and could that gay person be attracted to him, or was he attracted to that person, I remembered that boy in myself. So regardless of surface, I found an emotional truth in Simon’s coming out and fantasies and hopes, and I found that truth in other parts of the script: the characters somewhat muted reactions to situation seemed more true to life than to sitcoms. When Simon gets in trouble with his best friends, it’s not because they don’t accept him, but because he had behaved badly towards them.
My guess is that my more cynical and world-weary lesbian and gay friends will find this movie far too sweet and simple for their taste, but I loved “Love, Simon” and hope that it’s a hit.