It’s rare that you witness mainstream entertainment enter the gay pop-culture canon and change it forever.
Will & Grace was one of those moments, back in the ’90’s. I held my breath in between laughing out loud as gays took over the traditional TV sitcom crown. Brokeback Mountain was another, as movie star cowboys Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger barebacking in the tent made it official that Hollywood had embraced its gay.
Love, Simon was another such moment—simply, subtly, almost beneath the radar and with only moderate fanfare. That’s also why it happened.
On the surface (and according to the first review I read), Love, Simon is just another teenage rom-com with kooky characters, worrisome-cool parents, and drunken parties—even a vomit scene—that we’ve been seeing since John Hughes took us on his first day off. Only with one teensy twist: The lead character, Simon (Nick Robinson), is gay and closeted.
But before you dismiss it as a “funny Call Me By Your Name” know that Love, Simon is not in the “serious gay movie” category, nor is it supposed to be. It’s not proffering up its advanced Academy screeners or inviting college discussions about the nature of homosexual turmoil in America. And it probably won’t be met with much conservative resistance either.
Love, Simon isn’t doing any of those things because it assumes, correctly, we’ve already arrived. The brilliance of the flick lies in its determination to blend in with an already established genre and treat gay teens as they should be treated—as young adults with problems just like everyone else. It took all those serious LGBT movies to get here, and now it’s time to sit back with popcorn and enjoy the show.
Directed by Greg Berlanti (The Broken Hearts Club) and based on a book by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is a simple tale, with the lead character falling in online love with a stranger. In the process, he comes out, both willingly and otherwise. Make no mistake: While the film is encrusted in teen angst and rom-com tropes, the coming out scenes are so authentic you’ll find yourself sobbing over your own remembered confessions. (The cast, led by Robinson, is uniformly excellent.)
Do parents, friends and even strangers, eventually accept Simon? Did Shakespeare’s comedies end on a tidy note? This is fantasy-frothed cinema, after all—a feel-good charmer that would have been a rip-off if it took itself too seriously.
Like when I saw Jack and Will backbite on Will & Grace, or watched heartthrobs Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal fuck and fall in love on Brokeback Mountain, watching Love, Simon took me back to my childhood self, an unpopular gay kid who could only dream of seeing himself represented on the big and little screen. Isolated and alone, I watched sitcoms like Laverne & Shirley, dreaming of an impossible world where I could be Carmine Ragusa’s “Angel Face” love. I watched The Breakfast Club, wishing I, not Molly Ringwald, was the popular kid Emilio Estevez flirt-teased. I fantasized about being Doris Day to Pillow Talk’s Rock Hudson. (Who knew?)
Back in the real world, I fell madly in love with a guy in school. I never told him, or anyone else, because I lived in a town and a world where homosexual behavior was considered akin to child molestation.
Watching Love, Simon alone but not alone at the movie theater, those memories came rushing back. A gay, 20-something couple was sitting next to me, and, after the film ended, I watched them pull out their phones, text, then quickly grab hands and leave the theater. I have no idea if they’d grasped the importance of what had just transpired, but I was awash in a newfound sense of pride. I finally saw a world depicted where I could be the star, not the phantom in the wings.