After watching Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon, I left the theater feeling conflicted. Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s book “Simon vs. The Homosapien Agenda,” I’m still going over everything that the movie did well, and all those painfully missed moments. It’s a coming-of-age film, meaning its main goal is to remind its viewers (both teens and their parents) that life is cruel and confusing, but! being alive is always worth it. And for a movie of this genre to revolve around Simon, a closeted high school senior, the story seems too posh to really drive the point that life’s perpetually uncertain for everyone.
While I say these things, I won’t deny this movie the praise it deserves for being a mainstream, big-budget gay film — something I wish I could’ve seen when I was a young teenager. Representation, at its finest or even lowest examples, is something we in the LGBTQ+ community should applaud. Thinking back on past gay-themed movies, I complained that tragic endings are such a cliché at this point that I’m unsure whether sad endings have become a simple movie trope or bleak commentary on the LGBTQ+ condition. But here we have Love, Simon which steps away from the expected formula.
I won’t reveal specifics, just know that the movie, especially the ending, is far from sad — and that’s what gets to me. Here we have Simon with an undeniably perfect life: accepting parents, racially ambiguous, caring friends, popularity, perpetual Starbucks drinks, a fun, quirky high school life, international travel, and, of course, love. Sure, the boy feels petrified of coming out the closet because he fears that those around him will treat him differently, but even that seems like a fairly superficial concern. In a review, Doreen St. Félix noted that Simon’s portrayal of gayness left little room for more expression of gay love and a more complex depiction of sexuality. And that’s frankly my biggest issue with the movie.
I wonder if 21st Century Fox, the production company behind Love, Simon, greenlit this movie for the positive impact it would have on younger viewers, or rather, was it for the bragging rights of “We’re the first big studio to make a gay-teen movie! Yay us!” Because for me, it feels more of the latter being the case — which again forces me to remember that to make this movie mainstream, Love, Simon needed to be as palatable as possible. Simon’s intersectionality is as polished as his life. He’s a straight acting, cis-gender, white, attractive guy in an affluent suburb. All of his navy-blue sweaters and baggy jeans do a great job at proving that, as he says it at the beginning of the movie, “I’m just like you!” This kind of assimilation forces me to wonder, would the movie been budgeted and produced if Simon were, say, a trans man of color? How about a gender fluid, queer Simon — is that mainstream worthy? I’m sure members of the LGBTQ+ community will be divided between these topics; and while Simon’s sexual and gender identities are easily brandable, the gay teen having their own movie is still commendable.
And you might leave Love, Simon feeling conflicted, too. Or not at all and you might get into your car loving the first mainstream gay rom-com. Whatever happens, just go and watch the movie for yourself if you haven’t already. It may seem like a double-edged sword, giving money to the same studio who made a pale LGBTQ+ movie, but think of the future films other studios will fund because of Love, Simon’s success. Money talks, and we need ours to speak for the things that ring worthy and necessary to us.