Love, Simon (2018)
There are many ways to tell a story about a gay teenager’s coming out. Some will appeal across all age groups while others will have a more targeted demographic. The light-hearted rom-com Love, Simon (2018) is an example of the laser-like targeting of youth, which could leave some older audiences on the outside looking in.
The plot is simple and linear. Simon (Nick Robinson) is a good looking, well-adapted 17-year old white middle-class teenage boy, with perfect complexion, lots of great friends and a loving, supportive family. This, we are repeatedly told, is how ‘normal’ looks. But Simon is also secretly struggling with when and how to announce his gay sexuality to the world. The struggle, we are meant to imply, is abnormal and should not be happening in today’s world. A chance social-media post alerts him to another person in the same situation and ongoing anonymous messaging becomes the medium for an emerging romantic relationship. That is, until Simon’s privacy is stolen by the class clown who finds the messages and blackmails Simon. Of course, things do not go to plan and it all becomes a quagmire of broken relationships.
There have been many important gay-themed films in recent times, and the poignancy of Moonlight (2017)and the poetic beauty of Call Me by Your Name (2017) stand tall in the genre. Love, Simon, however, stands out for its Glee-style, middle-America, sugar-coated representation of gayness and the bothersome disruption to Simon’s coming-out experience. If Simon and his story are intended to represent the trauma of non-acceptance, fear, and prejudice experienced by many LGBTI people, it falls way short of the mark. His climactic ‘shout it from the top of a carnival wheel’ emancipation is a soapy and narrow portrait of such experiences, while his warm middle-class safety net ensures the soft landing not available to others.
Most astute movie-goers will recognise that hailing this film as a landmark effort because it features a gay protagonist is more than exaggeration. The comedy is superficial and its humour loaded with teenage code for sexual behaviour, but it barely raised chuckles at my cinema. Fortunately, the main cast comprises mostly charming and likeable young actors, who don’t even come close to showing R-rated content which ensures the film reaches the younger teenage demographic.
This is not to argue that the film is unimportant. Rather, it is an enjoyable, if lightweight, contribution to redressing the history of underrepresentation of gay issues in the young film market. Other films have done this with far greater impact, and the space is wide open for much more. Love, Simonis a small but positive step in the normalisation of gay representation across the full spectrum of film. It is also a missed opportunity to explore deeper perspectives on the emotional significance of coming out by young people.
Director: Greg Berlanti
Stars: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel