Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) lives a ‘totally normal’ life, except for one big secret he’s kept hidden from everyone – he’s gay. He finds solace and community in his online correspondence with another anonymous closeted gay student at his high school, whom he only knows as ‘Blue’. When another student leaks their private emails, Simon has to suddenly come to terms with his new public identity. Love, Simon also stars Josh Duhamel as Simon’s father, Jennifer Garner as his mother, and our own WA-bred Katherine Langford (Thirteen Reasons Why).
Love, Simon is nothing ground-breaking or original. There have been ‘better’ (i.e. less problematic, more realistic) representations of homosexuality in cinema, but this is usually where art-house and indie films find their strength, in socially subordinated and marginalised narratives. It’s not so common amongst massive production studios that monopolise media with their subsidiaries and products. However, if we look at this film as a piece of genre fiction, taken entirely on its own terms, as a formulaic rom-com/cheesy teen coming-of-age story, then perhaps it is making some significant headway. After all, this is how these things go, and once co-opted into mainstream media (whether it be through large companies trying to seem ‘relevant’ and cashing in on social trends), the issue becomes far less contentious, and starts on its journey towards normalisation.
Love, Simon feels is so tailored to the genre that it almost parodies it, tapping on the fourth wall occasionally, so gorged on cliché and stereotype it’s palpable. Which is interesting, because it almost feels like a critique of itself. There are moments that break through the clichéd dialogue to something touchingly well-written, like the reaction of Simon’s ‘not macho but makes a lot of casually sexist comments’ father, when he finds out his son is gay. These few lines of dialogue are the most real part of the whole film, and for a moment it could be a real family, not the two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of the privileged American family.
Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of linguistics will probably notice the ‘I’m totally normal except that I’m gay’ opening narration of the film immediately sets up a problem; if the one non-normal thing in his life is his sexuality, does that make being gay not normal? Perhaps it’s just poorly worded. I’m also pretty sure that living in a privileged white-ish neighbourhood, attending an incredibly well-funded school, and having the most idyllic, loving family and quirky-cool friends is not ‘normal’ for the vast majority of people. But this comes down to the genre, again – the film is not aiming to problematise race or class. Its characters don’t have any essentially critical flaws to overcome, it just replaces the hetero-relationship narrative with a homosexual one and continues on its way. Having said that, to balance the sheer amount of gay on screen (two closeted, relatively masculine gay kids and one very camp non-closeted one, that’s three whole gay men), there has to be about three or four other potential heterosexual relationships intermingling throughout the plot. In fact, the hetero couples might actually get more screen time devoted to their problems than Simone does to his own personal struggle.
The best characters are without a doubt the drama teacher, Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell) and deputy principal, Mr. Worth (Tony Hale) – classic high school rom-com trope characters, but who are hilarious throughout. One of my biggest problems with these films, however, is the fact that all the high school students are over 20 years of age, with Keiynan Lonsdale being 26. These films are the primary reason I can’t tell what age people are in real life.
Personally, I am embittered by all-American coming-of-age stories, because they set up a false expectation of teenhood, particularly coming from an Australian context. So I recognise my own bias against this sort of film. However, it’s still a touching film, soaked in sentimentality, and I can understand that audiences that want this type of film will love it; it’s cheesy, romantic, hilarious, safely predictable, and taken on its own terms it’s entertaining. It doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is.
I rate this film 6/10.