In the new movie, “Love, Simon,” a teenage boy faces the need to tell his family and friends that he is gay. That is, understandably, already a difficult thing for him to face, but it’s one made all the more impossible as he is being blackmailed about having not yet revealed his sexuality.
I can’t speak to whether or not the boy in question, Simon, coming out to his parents and friends is realistic. I have never experienced that unique moment. What I can say is that from the outside the movie seems to handle it with aplomb. It is a caring, warm, representation, one that reminds those watching that we are all human, that we all make mistakes, that we could all be better people, and that our similarities are greater than our differences.
In many ways, the film, which is directed by Greg Berlanti with a script from Elizabeth Berger & Isaac Aptaker (based on a novel by Becky Albertalli), plays out like a standard high school teenage dramedy. It is about a group of friends—Simon (Nick Robinson), Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.)—and the problems they face in their senior year of high school. Naturally, most of this revolves around romantic relationships, whether they be mutual or one-sided attraction.
The biggest way in which it lies outside the perceived norm is that Simon happens to be gay. Berlanti and company go out of their way to make sure that everyone watching the film understands the truth of this — there is absolutely, without a doubt, nothing wrong with his being gay, but that it does add a layer of complexity to how he deals with those around him, including any girls in his school who might have a crush on him and his parents, who are unaware.
Things really ramp up, however, when another kid at the school, Martin (Logan Miller), learns that Simon is gay and blackmails Simon into helping him get a date with Abby. And so, the audience gets to see Simon navigate those incredibly rocky waters and figure out his responsibilities to himself versus those to the world around him.
One of the things “Love, Simon” is best at, is offering shades of grey. Simon is left with no good choices about what to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he takes the best of the bad options, and his friends act in similar fashion. Even Martin, who is the closest thing the movie has to a villain, isn’t wholly evil. Miller’s character is regularly softened by comedic antics and the clear idea that he, too, is stumbling in his attempts at adulthood.
That is not to say, however, that Martin is wholly excused in his villainy. No one here is, but at the same time, the movie makes sure that everyone knows that humans are imperfect. It even takes the same approach when it comes to Simon’s parents, Jack (Josh Duhamel) and Emily (Jennifer Garner). The insecurities of the two adults, particularly as those insecurities center around Simon, are made wonderfully realistic. These are people who do not care about the sexual orientation of their children, but still fear their ability, or lack thereof, to show their love and respect for him in the right way.
“Love, Simon” is a funny, endearing, film. Simon’s emails with, and real-word search for, another gay student at his school perfectly encapsulate the romantic feelings anyone might have for another person at that age. Robinson’s portrayal of Simon makes the character an incredibly vulnerable teenager, laying his heart bare in the only way he knows how. Like so much else in the film, it is touching and wonderful.
As noted above, whether or not the portrayal is true to the experience a gay teenager might have is not something I can say. What I can say is that, from the outside, everyone in the film feels like a three dimensional, realistic, person. These are all folks with strengths and weaknesses and who want to do their best but don’t always know how. “Love, Simon” does drag a little from time to time and features some wholly predictable moments, but it is still an enjoyable, considered, film.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox