That’s the first thing I wanted to say after seeing Love, Simon, 20th Century Fox’s new teen rom-com, directed by Greg Berlanti, based off of the bestselling novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.
Love, Simon follows Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a high school senior who has “a totally perfectly normal life.” He has a squad — best friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), and Nick (Jorge Lenderborg Jr.) — and a loving family, and he drinks way too much coffee. You know. Typical high school stuff. Except Simon has “one huge-ass secret”: he’s gay. And nobody, including his friends and family, knows.
When a fellow student posts an anonymous confession on their school gossip blog saying he’s also gay, Simon begins an online pen-pal-turned-romance with someone who only goes by the name of “Blue.” It seems all pretty straightforward … until Simon’s classmate Martin (Logan Miller) discovers the emails and uses them to blackmail Simon into setting him up with Abby. And then, as they say, hijinks ensue.
It must be stated upfront: Love, Simon is a gotdamn delight. The movie’s two big plot points — 1.) Will Simon ever figure out who Blue is and 2.) Can Simon protect his own identity until he’s ready to come out on his own terms — are gripping and propulsive. But more than that, the movie radiates with a quirky and playful charm that’ll make you miss your own high school days. (An impressive feat considering that, as anyone who has lived through high school will tell you, teenage angst is NOT fun.) But as you watch Simon kick step his way through his school’s very doomed production of Cabaret, try to set up two classmates at a Halloween party, or flirt with the cute server at Waffle House, you’ll be submerged in a comforting wave of nostalgia.
Love, Simon is a gotdamn delight
That’s in part because of the incredible cast of characters. Shipp’s Abby steals every scene she’s in, belaying a breezy confidence that’s infectious to watch, and Katherine Langford perfectly portrays the quiet angst of growing up.
And it’s not just Simon and his crew that you’ll fall in love with. Tony Hale shines as Mr. Worth, the principal who is trying waaaaaayyy to hard to be cool. And god bless Ethan, the out gay student at Simon’s school, who delivers some of the best one liners of the movie as he claps back at his bullies with an impressive amount of wit and savagery.
If there is one challenge to the movie it’s that we don’t get more Simon, especially when he’s cast alongside such a colorful group of characters.
Simon is presented as “the every man” and, in fact, the first few words spoken in the film is an opening voice over where Simon says “I’m just like you.” Part of the humor, then, is the juxtaposition of Simon, bumbling like a fish out of water, as he makes his way through a series of absurd situations as he tries to protect his identity.
But watch closely and you’ll notice props in the background like Simon’s Hufflepuff badge, Elliot Smith posters on the walls of his room, a copy of More Happy Than Not (written by Becky Albertalli’s friend and fellow YA author Adam Silvera) sticking out of his bookshelf, and Adventure Time Funko Pops on his desk, all signaling a much more vibrant Simon that I wish got more screen time.
It’s a testament to Nick Robinson that you never stop rooting for Simon, even if there’s a sense that you never fully know him.
The film is funny throughout, but it must be said that when Love, Simon tugs at your heart strings, it really f*cking tugs, to the point where you’ll ask yourself: “Does this movie have a secret valve that directly controls my tear ducts?” For instance, about halfway through the movie, Simon learns that he’s been outed to his whole school, and watching the pangs of fear, anger, shame, and humiliation flash across Simon’s face is truly heartbreaking.
Later, Simon’s mom (Jennifer Garner) delivers perhaps one of the most soul healing parent speeches to ever grace the big screen. “These past few years, it’s almost like I could feel you holding your breath,” she consoles. “You’re still you, Simon. But you get to exhale, Simon. You get to be more you than you’ve been in a very long time.”
It’s a speech that you’ll carry with you in your heart everywhere you got — it’s an affirmation that quite frankly feels like the comforting coming out hug that every person who identifies as LGBTQ wishes they had.
But as fun as the movie is, Love, Simon also carries an incredible weight on its shoulders: As one of the first gay teen rom-coms to get a major studio release, Love, Simon is under tremendous pressure to both be very successful (to prove that queer-led movies do have wide audience appeal) and be very queer (so it that it speaks to the populations of people under-represented on film).
‘Love, Simon’ feels like an instant classic that you’re going to want to watch again and again
Love, Simon handles this challenge with care and dexterity. Though Ethan (and his clapbacks) are often played for laughs, he does provide powerful speech about how not everyone in the community is the same, sharing that even being “the out and proud obviously gay kid” has its challenges too. And the various ways his peers react to Simon’s outing shows the complexity of why someone might be afraid to come out, even when they’re reasonably certain that their friends and family will accept them.
Love, Simon also addresses the industry pressure applied to it, often through the questions Simon asks himself about coming out. “Why is it only gay people who have to come out? Why is straight the default?” Simon muses one point, and it’s not hard to extrapolate that question to the film industry at large. Why is it that when a movie stars a gay character, it’s a gay movie? Why is the pressure to succeed so much greater for movies that feature minority characters?
It’s a tricky conundrum. Love, Simon wears its status as a gay teen rom-com proudly on its sleeve. (The ad campaign for this movie has been Simon dropping quips about being gay).
And yet, calling it a gay teen rom-com seems to do Love, Simon a disservice because it’s so much more than that. Yes, we’re watching Simon grapple with coming out. But the movie also tackles coming-of-age overall. Because it’s not just Simon — everybody in the movie is having relationship or friendship issues in some way, shape, or form. But to call it anything other than a gay teen rom-com denies how groundbreaking of a movie the film is. “I deserve a great love story,” Simon proclaims in the movie. And in a way, he speaks for every gay viewer watching the movie — we deserve a rom-com that we can see ourselves in.
And perhaps the true triumph of Love, Simon is the way that the movie balances all of those elements: it’s a heart-wrenching, empathy-expanding look at what it means to be a gay teen AND it’s a universal story about the awkward, messy attempts of navigating high school, AND it’s a hilarious comedy in it’s own right.
Ultimately, Love, Simon feels like an instant classic that you’re going to want to watch again and again.
So thank you for being you, Simon.