This St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday traditionally spent either going out to the parade or barhopping across the city, I found myself in a crowded theatre in Union Square waiting to watch one of the most talked about films in 2018. As the clock hit 7:30 pm and the lights began to dim, I silenced my cell phone and prepared myself for the film to begin. An hour and fifty minutes later, the lights rose, and I stared blankly at the rolling credits to process the emotional rollercoaster I had just gone through.
Love, Simon, directed by Greg Berlanti, is a romantic, coming-of-age film that centers on the trials and tribulations of an awkward high school student trying to navigate his sexuality amidst the impending fear of being outed due to a series of unfortunate events. Based off the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by Becky Albertalli, protagonist Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), begins an email correspondence with the mysterious “Blue,” another closeted student who confides in Simon about his difficulties with his sexuality. However, their emails are discovered by haplessly incessant Martin (Logan Miller), who uses them to blackmail Simon into setting him up with newcomer Abby (Alexandra Shipp). The movie then follows Simon as he attempts to keep Martin at bay while also attempting to keep his friendships and — most importantly — his relationship with Blue intact.
At face value, Love, Simon is nothing more than your standard coming-of-age romantic comedy, filled with enough catchy one-liners to balance out its dramatic premise. It’s a classic “overcoming adversity” trope that has played out in so many different movies of its genre, and one that consistently emits the feel-good vibes audiences want after the credits roll.
However, when looking deeper, the film stands for something so much greater than the sum of its parts. This is the first major studio film to ever feature a gay romantic lead, as well as a storyline that focuses on the said romance, something that was once considered taboo and alternative by traditional Hollywood standards.
Moreover, this is a representation of the LGBT community that isn’t riddled with hysteria, death and tragedy. None of the gay characters die in the film, are cheated on or are secondary to the overall plot. This is a story that transcends those marketable stereotypes and focuses on something we don’t normally see for LGBT films: normalcy. This is a young kid whose problems are every other high school student’s problems: which classes to take next year, which part he wants in the school musical, who he’s going to ask to prom senior year.
Simon is a character that is relatable by nature and doesn’t transcribe to the completely fractured archetype gay characters have normally been boxed into. This is not to say he doesn’t have his faults, but his mistakes are ones everyone can fall into when they are working under pressure. The confrontation Simon and Abby have over his manipulation of her feelings with Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) can translate into any typical disagreement between friends about romantic feelings. Viewers can see themselves, or at least someone they know, in some part of Simon.
However, Love, Simon‘s impact comes from its portrayal of LGBT-centric issues, like coming out and social acceptance, in a manner that is understandable, yet authentic. One of the most powerful scenes in the film was between Simon and his mother (Jennifer Garner) and her affirmation to him that he was still the same Simon she had raised and loved from the start. The raw intimacy that came from that scene touched every person in the theater to the point of tears. The movie dared to take on a highly sensitive topic — one that most people know about but never have to experience — and made it a universally human experience.
For the gay community, it was an eye-changing moment to see something so personal portrayed on a screen in a delicate and thought-out manner. The ability to have their story told and see themselves represented to a national audience was something that had been fought for many generations, and this film serves validates their struggles. This film was the first step to changing the narrative behind what it meant to be queer and how society could move forward in accepting the LGBT community for what it is and what it stands for. For everyone else, this scene allowed them an inside look into the emotional anguish and vulnerability behind being a young gay kid who has recently been outed against his own will and with nowhere else to turn.
While the film has drawn some criticism from the LGBT community for “not being queer enough” and being “too idealistic” in its portrayal of coming out, Love, Simon is a testament to where we are as a society and where we need to go. The film serves as a landmark for breaking down the idea of gay romances not being marketable, and proves that audiences are willing to see and support a film about an underrepresented community. The film is by no means perfect, but it does well in establishing a precedent for future films that feature gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer couples.
By doing so, its impact reaches across the country to the young, at-risk LGBT youth who have been struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity and figure what it means for their lives in the future. They now have the chance to see an example of a romance they could have, and role models they can look up to in seeing how they — and those who surround them — can learn to accept and love the people they are. Love, Simon lives up to the tagline it comes with and shows that indeed, “everyone deserves a great love story.”