Love, Simon, the eagerly-anticipated romantic comedy directed by Dawson’s Creek producer, Greg Berlanti, is notable for being one of few mainstream films featuring a closeted protagonist, with Nick Robinson playing a teenage boy-next-door hiding his sexuality from his friends. The film follows his journey of self-acceptance as a gay man, aided by an anonymous fellow student who is also attempting to understand his sexuality. The two meet via a chatroom used by all the kids at their high school, in which users can post without revealing their identity.
It feels odd to note that a film with a gay teenage protagonist still remains a novelty in 2018, but I struggle to think of many other Hollywood productions that focus entirely on the coming out experience. A quick browse through Netflix’s LGBT section reveals a healthy quantity of such movies, but mainstream film studios appear reluctant to place in the spotlight a journey that all gay people undertake at some point or another. In this sense, Love, Simon is a ground-breaking production, its mere existence carrying significant social importance. Nevertheless, this does little to mask the film’s notable failures, disappointing both stylistically and in the treatment of its subject matter.
The feel-good vibe that dominates the majority of the 110-minute running time comes across as saccharine and laboured, the desire to present Simon as a ‘normal’ guy who just happens to be gay removing any possibility of exploring interesting perspectives on sexuality and gender. Frustratingly, the audience is presented with a stereotypical gay binary: on one hand, we see the eponymous character describing himself as ‘just like you’ – a sanitised figure that neither shocks nor intrigues. On the other hand, the only additional gay kid at the school is a feminine, ‘sassy’ stock character who fires off witty comments and is often accompanied by a gaggle of adoring BFFS. Whilst this in itself constitutes a simplistic, reductive representation of gay culture in 2018, what unites these two characters, and further serves to let down viewers, is the way in which they are denied sexual desire, purified to a point that few teenagers – LGBT or not, would be able to identify with. Aside from a scene in which Simon is awkwardly led to check out a male football player by one of his friends, at no point do we see either of the gays expressing an overtly sexual interest in another boy.
To be fair to the film’s creators, neither do we see much sexual passion expressed by the straight characters, perhaps a consequence of the film’s 12A rating. Whilst admirable that it has been made with a young audience in mind, maximising their exposure to gay relationships in an attempt to normalise them, the film seems fundamentally prude, twee and unrealistic. Forget Skins, Love, Simon recoils at the idea of teenage sexual desire. Oddly, Simon’s most overtly sexual thoughts seem to be linked to childhood fantasies related to Harry Potter, which comes across as ridiculous on screen as it appears in print.
Despite the teenagers’ squeaky-clean image in the bedroom, one of the most laudable elements of the film is its refusal to turn a blind eye to the homophobia that can still be found in Western countries considered to be liberal and tolerant. We hear the slur ‘fag’ being thrown around and gay relationships openly mocked by two prejudiced students. However, in Love, Simon’s feel-good fantasy world, the teachers firmly discipline these transgressions, and even wear rainbow badges – reactions I imagine are alien to gay people across the age spectrum.
– by James Landymore