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Love, Simon is a wonderful film – and it’s a miracle it exists

Love, Simon is a wonderful film – and it’s a miracle it exists

Nick Robinson as Simon Spier in Love, Simon.

After seeing Love, Simon, one thought popped into my head. I wished this movie had come out when I was in high school, navigating my identity and sexuality, all on top of theater class and AP tests.

My second thought? I’m so glad this movie exists for teens now.

Make no doubt about it: Love, Simon, from director Greg Berlanti and a pair of This Is Us writers (Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger), is an important film.

Based on Becky Albertalli’s YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the movie follows 17-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson). He has a normal, privileged life, with beautiful and very upper middle class parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel).

There’s just one thing: he’s gay, and no one knows it. When another student from his school posts anonymously on the local gossip blog and comes out as gay, he and Simon strike up an e-mail correspondence. There, under the pseudonyms Blue and Jacques, they can finally be themselves. Through their emails, an intimate bond starts to form into something more.

What if the world doesn’t like who you are?

Within minutes of the film’s start, Simon makes it clear he’s ‘just like you’. And he is. He has his parents, an adorable little sister, and a dog, all in a nice suburban home.

At school, he has a core group of friends — childhood friend Leah (Katherine Langford), soccer player Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp) — who all inexplicably have enough money every morning for take-out iced coffee.

He has a Hamilton playbill on his desk and a Bob’s Burger poster on the bedroom wall. One of his first crushes — and hints he was gay — was Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.

But the weight of keeping a secret, of staying in the closet, is overwhelming, even for normal, privileged Simon.

That’s where this film shines. It never takes for granted how hard coming out is and affords it the gravity it deserves.

Simon has friends who love him and a bleeding-heart liberal for a mother (at one point, she’s making feminist posters). But his father also calls a man ‘fruity’ and he sees how a gay kid at school is mocked (played wonderfully by Clark Moore, with all the best comebacks).

The reality of these microaggressions is like a cold bucket of water, dousing Simon as he retreats further. He may be normal, but there’s a world out there that might not be kind to him.

Robinson plays Simon affably, almost like a blank slate. He’s a fully realized character, but he’s just common enough that, while being the protagonist, he also functions as an avatar. It’s a key element — in the world of the movie, this is Simon’s story, but the writers know that’s not the larger picture. A lot of teens who see this movie — and even adults who are out, but remember their closeted high school days — are going to place themselves in Simon’s shoes.

That’s why it’s so important the movie normalizes Simon, but never downplays the importance of his identity.

A mainstream teen classic

Love, Simon isn’t just a gay film. It’s also going to go down in the canon of classic teen films. It feels like ones that came before it — The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls — and it’s about time films with gay characters and themes were treated like other popcorn fare.

Don’t get me wrong, the teen movies I grew up with were fantastic. The Princess Diaries and 10 Things I Hate About You are still very special to me. And I’ve been loving all the arthouse queer films lately as well, from Call Me By Your Name to A Fantastic Woman to Beats Per Minute.

But there’s something unmistakably great about Love, Simon being a mainstream film, released in major, accessible theaters. It’s great that for its opening weekend, friends and families are going to flock to see it, just like a superhero film or broad comedy.

Simon and his friends.
Simon and his friends. | Photo: IMDB/20th Century Fox

This movie is also blessedly more diverse than past teen films. Beyond Nick and Abby, Keiynan Lonsdale plays Bram, another student at the school. And these teens are treated with just as much compassion as Simon. Their hardships are real too.

It’s easy for people to pick on younger generations, but fortunately this movie never takes that route. It understands, and empathizes with, the fear of being on the edge of adulthood and wondering who you are.

At one point or another, they’re all funny, relatable, angsty, and quippy — as any teen in a good teen movie should be.

And that’s why it will join all the others at future sleepovers.

You are accepted

The tears really come when Garner delivers her big speech. In my screening, I heard numerous others in the theater crying with me. In that moment, she’s not just addressing her gay son, she’s talking to all the queer youth in the world.

That’s where this movie’s most genuine honesty comes from — its belief in love and acceptance.

It recognizes how freeing and powerful being yourself is — when you’re safe, comfortable, and accepted. At one point, Simon imagines an idealized life in college. Attending Liberal University, he partakes in a dance number to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, where everyone is uplifting and uniquely themselves.

It’s over-the-top, completely unrealistic, and totally, 100% a dream every queer teen has had. The ache for living your life authentically and happily is deeply felt in every moment. Even in this idealized suburb, the fears are real.

Is it a perfect film? Hardly. It’s mapped onto other coming-of-age films — plenty done better than this — but we’ve had to deal with an excess of mediocre movies about straight teens. Audiences can easily overlook the imperfections for its sheer existence and impact. And anyway, beyond all the deep ponderings, it’s also a charming, endlessly entertaining film to boot.