If you’re LGBTQ+ and didn’t go to high school in San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City, “Love, Simon” will probably contain some deeply familiar moments.
“Love, Simon” is adapted from the Becky Albertalli’s novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” At first glance, the story seems like every other high school story in a teen dramedy. A slightly nerdy but ultimately endearing guy struggles to find his place in the world as he navigates family, friendships and love.
Protagonist Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is all of the above things, with one rather significant, additional detail — he is gay and very much not out. “Love, Simon” is not the typical coming-of-age story. For Simon, coming of age and coming out are hopelessly, distressingly tangled.
Ian McKellen recently posted a poignant tweet about the healing power of coming out. He’s right, of course, but coming out is never a clear-cut experience — and often the first emotion one feels is fear or confusion, rather than uncomplicated joy.
“Love, Simon” gives an intimate, sincere understanding of coming out, defining it as a release and a discovery of one’s full self. While this aspect is where “Love, Simon” finds its heart, it also succeeds in its respect for the way different ways relationships form. The plot ultimately hinges on Simon’s online correspondence with the mysterious Blue, impressively not dismissing their relationship for its electronic basis.
Yet “Love, Simon” was not a perfect movie. The film does not quite manage a fully formed critique of the tendency by straight people to commodify the “fun” parts of being gay — the triumphant coming out, for example, or Pride — including a depiction of allyship bordering on fetishization, despite its own critique of the phenomenon.
I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest. Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC radio discussion when I publically said I was gay. So I’m celebrating!
— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) January 27, 2018
These choices are all the more frustrating considering how the plot goes out of its way to acknowledge the importance of a person’s coming out being a personal process. Coming out, Simon insists, belongs to the person coming out and no one else. The fact that the film then proceeds to involve the whole school in Blue and Simon’s relationship — while not an uncommon practice in heterosexual teen movies — seems out of place in a movie that otherwise understands the intimacy inherent in letting people see the deepest parts of themselves.
Coming out is an incredibly vulnerable experience, and vulnerability is, quite frankly, a terrifying state. In a powerful, all-too-relatable sequence, Simon imagines his glorious coming out — which in his mind will, of course, not happen until he is settled in college in Los Angeles.
Coming out is an end just as much as a beginning — something the movie depicts well. For better or worse, when you come out, it may be that the person everyone thought you were is gone.This knowledge is at the heart of Simon’s inner conflict, convincingly portrayed in earnest by Robinson. His friends and family have a certain image of him in their minds, and he’s afraid of the fallout from disrupting that image.
“Love, Simon” is just one more high school coming-of-age story, except for in all the ways it isn’t. LGBTQ+ youth deserve hopeful stories. Growing up LGBTQ+ can be incredibly hard — not everyone is accepting, and the loss incurred is hard to shake. Films like “Love, Simon” offer these youth a reminder that their identity is a beautiful thing that they will one day manage to find joy in.
There’s something to be said about the importance of asking if we really need another coming-out story about a cis, white gay man. And it is definitely past time that we address marginalizations within the LGBTQ+ community and expand representation within its media. We need to stop a white, cis-centric depiction of a “unified” LGBTQ+ experience — as demonstrated by 2015’s white-washed and historically inaccurate “Stonewall.”
But it’s also important to take into account that “Love, Simon” is a mainstream teen movie with an LGBTQ+ focus — a milestone that we should have already accomplished but can still celebrate reaching.
LGBTQ+-focused teen films shouldn’t end with Simon; his story just scratches the surface. Yet hopefully, its existence signals that LGBTQ+ experiences aren’t too esoteric for film. Its successfully affecting storytelling demonstrates that LGBTQ+ narratives deserve to be seen on the big screen.
Danielle Hilborn covers LGBTQ+ media. Contact her at [email protected].