On its surface, Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon seems like a lot of teen romantic comedies: it’s deliberately cheesy. The cast is made up of beautiful Hollywood-types, from heartthrob Nick Robinson, who plays Simon, to Jennifer Garner, who plays Simon’s mom, to promising up-and-comers like Keiynan Lonsdale, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., who play Simon’s close friends. The dialogue is snappy and fun. The characters “do everything friends do”—as Simon himself puts it: they “drink way too much iced coffee, watch bad 90s movies, and hang out at Waffle House dreaming of college and gorging on carbs.” The movie comes to life with bright, saturated colors and a poppy soundtrack. It’s partially these cookie-cutter aspects of the genre that highlight exactly how special Love, Simon is: they bring into stark focus the dearth of queer love stories in the romantic comedy canon. And while that might not sound like the great stride toward equality we’ve all been waiting for, it’s an enormous relief to see a big-budget queer film whose central tenets aren’t angst and self-hatred.
The film, based off the 2015 novel by Becky Albertalli, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, follows seventeen-year-old Simon through his senior year of high school, chronicling his journey towards coming out to his family, friends, and community through his anonymous online correspondences with another gay teenager at his high school, who goes only by the name “Blue” online. Throughout the course of the story, Simon falls in love with the unknown boy at the other end of his emails; he tasks himself with trying to find out who the secretive Blue is. The story is less a balancing act and more a braid when it comes to its three main threads (the coming-out story, the coming-of-age story, and the love story). It’s difficult to discuss one without touching on the other two. It’s Simon’s love for Blue that gives him the bravery to come out; it’s Simon’s coming out that defines his coming of age; Simon’s burgeoning maturity allows him to fully understand his feelings for Blue.
It’s safe to say that there has never been a gay story told on the big screen quite like Love, Simon. This isn’t to say that there have not been several important, popular, and enjoyable queer films in recent days—movies like Carol, Moonlight, and Call Me by Your Name have been staples of award season roster over the past few years. It’s just that none of these were, well, made to be fun. While these movies are all fantastic, they lack the sheer accessibility that Love, Simon brings to the screen.
Many of the queer stories told by Hollywood don’t get to have simple, happy endings; many are bloated with angst and complication, where desire is taboo and the characters are mired in uncertainty and self-doubt. These stories, too, are incredibly valuable for all the obvious reasons, but in the face of so much queer doubt and sorrow, having a film bursting with love and affirmation, positivity and humor, as Love, Simon does, makes it a rare gem. Love, Simon is simply easy to watch. This isn’t to say it’s mindless–it’s an incredibly heartfelt and thoughtful film—but it’s approachable in the upbeat, feel-good attitude that queer movies aren’t generally graced with. It’s important for queer people—especially queer teens—to see ourselves reflected in welcoming, optimistic, big-budget movies like this one (and it’s also important for straight people to see us this way too) as much as we see ourselves reflected in complex indie Sundance films. In that sense, Love, Simon is also a huge stride towards equity in film representation for LGBTQ people in general. Queer film shouldn’t be a genre of despair and disdain. Carol was a beautiful dive through rejection, doubt, and shame in the 1950s. But that isn’t the world young LGBTQ people are living in, and it certainly shouldn’t be the only kind of blockbuster where they see themselves represented.
Love, Simon captures the nuance of a teen coming-out experience without turning it into a tragedy. Simon’s family is liberal and open-minded, yet they still struggle at first when Simon comes out to them on Christmas morning: his father tries to turn it into a joke, and his mother doesn’t mention it to Simon at all. When it comes to his friends, Simon feels more comfortable coming out to his new friend, Abby, than to the friends he’s known since childhood, because he’s anxious about the people he knows seeing him in an entirely new light. When Simon is outed by a classmate at his high school, Nick Robinson is at the top of his game, delivering a powerful performance as he tells this classmate, “I’m supposed to be the one who decides when and how and who knows, and how I get to say it—that’s supposed to be my thing!” And while Simon’s process of coming out is far from flawless, he ultimately finds acceptance from the people about whom he cares most.
Love, Simon is a genuine love story that approaches teenage first love without an ounce of pretentiousness—and with every bit of the sweetness and curiosity, innocence and stupidity that defines teenage-hood. It’s an uplifting and affirming queer story free from the angst that plagues so many other queer films and books. It’s a movie that looks its queer viewers in the eye and says, “You deserve a great love story,” and then shows them what that love story can and should look like.