Too often, gay-romance films are steeped in despair and dismay, set in a world where being gay is an anathema. Love is ultimately lost, and we’re left leaving the theater yet again reminded of the heartache to finding love.
Yet with all of our hero’s internal struggle and teen angst, ‘Love, Simon’ tells a triumphant tale of love, friendship and forgiveness that reminds us of the joys of being who you are. Part romantic comedy, part mystery, the film’s themes of self-expression, pride and, yes, deception weave throughout, building to a final act that pays off with all the fun, surprise and tears you could hope for.
The story revolves around Simon (Nick Robinson), a typical teenager with a big secret: He’s gay. While he knows the people in his life would likely be 100% supportive — Mom (Jennifer Garner) paints a ‘down with patriarchy’ sign — Simon is still not “ready” to be out. While other stories of closeted characters are so often set in places of discord, Simon’s struggles build in a circle of support, reflecting the continuing power of a hetero-normative society in an LGBTQ-accepting culture.
When Simon learns there’s another gay kid at his school (everyone already knows about Ethan, played perfectly by Clark Moore), he embarks on a journey of secret-sharing and self-discovery that leads to a search for his mystery man.
When he finally types the words “Love, Simon” into his laptop, you get all the feels.
Sports play a key role in the film, establishing Simon’s milieu as your regular old, run-of-the-mill, middle-class American suburb. High school sports — in this case the autumn traditions of soccer and football — are always percolating in the background as the story unfolds, at one point presenting a center stage we’ve come to expect from the power of sports in film.
For his part, Simon is just a fan, happy to watch from the sideline or sit on the stands and cheer on his friends and classmates. So often we’re presented with gay characters engaged in theater who keep sports at bay. In Simon I personally got to see myself, equally in love with performing on stage and being part of a sports world that increasingly embraces people like him.
“It was so much of these characters’ lives, the ins and outs of these kids’ lives,” Berlanti told Outsports. “The theater or the soccer field, they are a fabric of our lives.”
While Berlanti isn’t a sports fan, he had the perfect consultant in husband Robbie Rogers. Rogers played professional soccer for a decade, winning the MLS Cup twice including once with the L.A. Galaxy after coming out.
“He was the perfect soccer technical consultant,” Berlanti said, “and he didn’t cost anything.”
Rogers actually appears in the film with a brief line near the end that you’ll miss if you blink.
To Berlanti’s credit, he did not create a white-washed film. The character and faces in the film are as diverse as 2018 America. While some filmmakers may have set this in a “white American suburb,” Berlanti set it in an “American suburb.” And he did so seamlessly.
My one warning about the film is that the “set-up” is a bit slow at times. In the first hour we meet the characters and immerse ourself in their circle. The second half of the film gets shot out of a canon and doesn’t stop moving until you’re crying for more.
The film is getting very strong anecdotal and professional reviews. In addition to a very “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in talking with the dozen-plus people who have seen the film, there hasn’t been a dry eye in the theater. Heck, my husband really liked it and he hates movies.
‘Love, Simon’ hits 2,400 screens this Friday. In addition to it being very much worth $15 and two hours of your time, it continues to be important to support LGBTQ films, especially when they get as wide a release as this.
So go check out ‘Love, Simon’ this weekend. You’ll be glad you did.