‘Love, Simon’ Isn’t The Queer Movie We Want But It’s One We Need
There are two types of people in this world: those that love Love, Simon and those that roll their eyes at the mention of Love, Simon despite not having actually seen Love, Simon. I was a skeptical member of the latter group until I saw a preview screening. (It's out in theaters today, by the way. Go buy your ticket now.) This is because Love, Simon exists in this weird in-between space: It is a movie that's been a long time coming, but it's also a movie that's just a hair too late. It is a movie we aren't sure we want at this point, but a movie we so desperately need.
If you can see past its cloying endearing qualities, that is.
At its most basic level, Love, Simon is a coming-of-age story that just so happens to be told through a closeted gay high school boy. (I'm going to safely assume that's due, in part, to the director Greg Berlanti's own experience as a closeted gay high school boy.) This, of course, means it's not only a coming-of-age story but a coming-out story, as well. That extra layer of identity is, in 2018, still extremely important. Up until this point, Hollywood hasn't produced and mass-marketed a coming-of-age coming-out story to teens and young adults. Fuck, Hollywood hasn't produced or mass-marketed many—if any—coming-of-age coming-out stories that aren't tragic to adults. As newly popular as the idea of inclusivity and representation may be, the narratives we get are still overwhelmingly white and cis. That's unacceptable, but we know this, and it's on us to continue to support and fund projects that speak to the diverse array of narratives there are out in the world.
Okay, with that said, let me tell you that Love, Simon is keenly aware of those criticisms and does well to address them—not in an objectifying way, but with nuance. A truly inclusive piece of content, be it a glossy editorial or a major motion picture, speaks for itself. It's peppered with tiny codes that those in-the-know will pick up on and identify with. Yeah, there are codes specific to a cis white gay male's experience, but Berlanti and his team of writers (Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker) do a wonderful job of capturing the very real high schooler senior's quest for a sense of place, purpose, and, yes, privacy.
Being a teen right now must be intense. The decade that separates me from Simon's isn't that big, though it really feels like it. There were no gossip sites for my high school. Teachers still didn't know how to properly deal with texting in class. And Grindr? Shit, even the out and proud queers I never met (but definitely knew were out there) didn't know what to do with the app. You would think a person from Simon's background—privileged, popular, white, and conventionally attractive—would have access to Tumblr where he could meet thousands of guys with whom to email. Love, Simon keeps that part of social media out of the picture and, instead, restricts communication between anyone to text, FaceTime, and email. A fantasy world that is also our not-so-distant past.
"Fantasy" is the key word here. Love, Simon is a fantasy just like The Perks of Being a Wall Flower or any John Hughes movie is a fantasy. Only this time, it's queer. Again, it's crazy that it's taken this long to get here. Now, queer people, especially gay boys, don't have to project themselves onto heteronormative movie narratives. They can see a version of their lived experience play out on the big screen. I cannot tell you where I would be on my journey of self-love had this movie come out 10 years ago. I really can't, but I like to imagine I'd feel more liberated. After all, discovering your sexuality isn’t a teen thing. You can be on the verge of 27 and still not know your body, your charm, or your rules of attraction. There's a sense of wonder that's lost between 17 and 27, and Love, Simon serves as a reminder that that sense of wonder still exists inside us. It's a sense that's not tied to any particular gender or sexual identity. It's more universal than that. It's the sense that every moment in your 24 hours in the day is special. I think that's what everyone means when they say adulthood is just searching for the kid inside you. You're not looking for a kid, but rather that adolescent sense of being, where you have your feet planted firmly on the ground with your eyes looking toward the stars.
Look, do we need another cis white gay male coming-out story? Yes. Do we need more stories about gay black Jewish boys? Yes. More stories that follow a gay Asian person's coming-out experience? Yes. The bisexual Latin teen story? Absolutely. We need those and many more of those stories told through a variety of lenses in spades. Love, Simon is just the beginning, and I am so fucking happy it works. I am so fucking happy it exists.