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Apparent as it may be to any reasonably sensitive, woke individual on this global community we call the Earth, Wonder Woman and Black Panther were long overdue, game-changing movies for obvious reasons. When the gay superhero movie finally arrives — as it inevitably must — celebration will again be in order. Until then, we have director Greg Berlanti’s mainstream coming out film Love, Simon, which is pitched — with perfect aim — to the general masses and is, let’s not be coy about it, damn well heroic.
“As a young gay man I never had this movie,” Berlanti has said, “so I felt like I had to make it my priority and be a part of something that hasn’t been done before.”
True, art house fare has been chock-a-block with gay romance, including three Academy Award-winning films: 2017’s Call Me By Your Name (Best Adapted Screenplay), 2016’s Moonlight (Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), and 2005’s Brokeback Mountain (Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay). And there is more LGBTQ content now than ever before — just check out what’s available to view on Netflix or any other streaming service.
Yet Love, Simon is special, because Berlanti’s film — about the trials and tribulations of Simon Spier as he negotiates the coming out process — isn’t just for cineastes and film buffs. It’s a popcorn movie made for everyone that has the potential to become a broad, commercial success.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s 2005 YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and adapted for the screen by This Is Us scribes Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, Love, Simon starts in earnest when the closeted title character — played by a winsome Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) — responds via email to an anonymous classmate’s post about being gay. Before then, Simon’s life was near perfect, with his hot high-school sweetheart parents Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (Josh Duhamel, grrrr), his precocious MasterChef-loving younger sister, and his trusty dog, Bieber (which, let’s be honest, naming your dog that is basically a form of coming out).
Then there are his high school friends Leah (Katherine Langford), who is crushing on Simon so hard it’s obvious to everyone but him; recent transfer student Abby (Alexandra Shipp), his best bro Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and the larger cast of classmates and theater geeks involved in a high school production of Cabaret.
There are evil machinations with the entertainingly slimy Martin (Logan Miller), who discovers that Simon has been emailing with the anonymous gay classmate “Blue” and who blackmails him into setting him up with Abby, and many other standard rom-com and high school movie shenanigans. The movie is over-stuffed, for sure, and it glosses over what for many people is an excruciating process.
But subtlety is not the point here. Love, Simon is like a fantastic John Hughes movie (16 Candles, let’s say) in which the dance of romance isn’t between Molly Ringwald and the latest hunk of the month, but between two boys who are trying to figure out who each other is and — more importantly — who they themselves are.
In test screenings in the Midwest and elsewhere, audiences haven’t just been entertained and moved (there’s a post-coming-out scene with Garner that reduced most of the audience I was with to tears); they’ve been vocal.
“People in the heart of Kansas were just as passionate talking about the importance or the reason people needed a movie like this as the people in California,” Berlanti has said.
And he’s right. For myself, while I was watching Love, Simon I remembered the first time I saw two men kiss in a film all the way back in the late 1970s. The audience hissed, and I slunk far down into my seat. When the young lovers reveal themselves here and lean in for that first contact, there were whoops, catcalls, applause.
It was more than enough to make a grown man cry.
Love, Simon is in theaters today.
Images courtesy Twentieth Century Fox / Ben Rothstein