‘Love, Simon’ sells itself as a film about love, because, as the poster screams, “everyone deserves a great love story”. In reality, the film was not even a love story, let alone a great one.
This teenage rom-com, directed by the openly gay Greg Berlanti, follows an American high-schooler through his journey to coming out. Simon Spier, played by Nick Robinson, has a close-knit group of friends, a perfect family, but one big secret: his sexuality. Spier wants to be open about being gay but fears the repercussions at home, despite his very liberal parents, and at school, where hyper-masculinity and hetero-normativity rule. Simon is given a chance when another student confesses to being gay on the high school’s anonymous online forum, and the two develop an internet relationship through their shared bond of being homosexual and being scared to tell anyone (apparently, that’s all it takes to make you fall in love!).
Everything about the film is unrealistic, from the wealthy Pottery Barn houses, to the picture-perfect suburban neighbourhoods: the glossy high school student body (not a zit or a brace amongst them) appears to be inclusive, well-adjusted and nauseatingly happy. The characterisation is boring and predictable: Josh Duhamel as the clueless dad, the excruciatingly awful “I’m your friend” Vice Principal, the angry single woman whose life peaked when she worked as an extra in the Lion King.
Simon realised he was gay when he started dreaming about Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and the lazy assertion that two of the three gay boys in the school would fall in love (after about ten email exchanges) is almost insulting. Nothing is messy or torturous, for the gay or the straight kids. Nothing seems real: the closest depiction of actuality was Simon’s best friend Nick’s casual assertion that sex was a lot more slippery than he had anticipated… Honestly, you would get more sexuality off an action man and a Barbie.
I am not a member of the LGBT+ community, but from my close friends’ experiences this film falls far short of expressing the pain and fear a character like Simon could have been facing. You feel no angst: there is no threat of exclusion or implied violence. The representation of homophobic bullying and ignorance was limited to two idiot jocks doing a stupid dance on a lunch table and his dad jovially accusing him of masturbating to Gigi Hadid.
Spier questions why he, as a homosexual, has to come out to his family, his friends, and the world, when no heterosexual ever has to face such a daunting prospect. A fantasy montage of Simon’s peers confessing their heterosexuality to their parents was a highlight of the film. However, this is as deep as it gets in tackling the stigmas and challenges the LGBT+ community faces, and in many ways, being ‘gay’ was offensively stereotyped and degraded. The characterisation of the only openly gay pupil in the student body was beyond predictable (carbon copy of ANTM’s Miss Jay); the awful Vice Principal’s clarification of his own heterosexuality to the recently outed Simon, embarrassing.
Although this review may seem overly harsh, the concept behind ‘Love, Simon’ had so much potential to become a brilliant landmark piece, which it ultimately failed to harness. The intention versus delivery dilemma is best exemplified by the failure to cast an LGBT+ actor as the role of Simon. If the content of films is going to modernise and diversify as much as the likes of #metoo and #oscarssowhite suggest they must, then casting must indeed reflect that movement too.
However, that ‘Love, Simon’ has been made is a good thing. It’s just a comedy, with a 12 certificate, after all. Perhaps Berlanti did not want to make a brilliant landmark piece about being gay. And that’s okay. The film raises a couple of laughs and makes you think just a little bit, and maybe that’s enough. There are plenty of mediocre, mildly entertaining films about teens coming of age and coming to terms with things about themselves. This is one of them.
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