Before getting into what makes Love, Simon a great film, I would like to express what makes Love, Simon so historical and special for cinema. Having been openly gay for almost a decade and seasoned with LGBTQ+ cinema all my life, there becomes a certain pattern recognizable among “queer cinema” as a whole. It tends to be overly abrasive and explicit, though arguably not without artistic value or merit. Everything from last year’s heartwarming Call Me By Your Name to John Waters’ insanely polarizing Pink Flamingos from 1972 shows the expanse of gay cinema, which—as romantic or purposefully off-putting as may be—tends to cross a very distinct line into the sexually vivid and near-pornographic, seen as taboo by the MPAA and immediately stamped with an R or NC-17 rating. Enter 2018’s heart-warming, family-friendly, PG-13-approved Love, Simon.
I attended premiere night to a packed theater, filled to the brim with teen and pre-teen boys and girls. The laughs were deafening and the glowing of cellphone lights was blinding. I braced for what I expected to be the worst theatrical experience of my life, and then the film began. For the very first time in my life, I laughed along with kids to humor never shared in a theater in a purely genuine way, where they squealed every time a boy mentioned anything remotely gay and screamed at the top of their lungs in joy during almost-kissing dream sequences. The energy in the theater was electric. Not a single person mocked the film—on the contrary, all of these kids (well over a decade younger than me) remained glued, cheering, crying, and relishing every moment of Simon’s journey in finding his gay crush. This is the very first time a film like Love, Simon has ever existed, because it is the very first one to finally tell kids that who they are is 100% okay and they are still as loved and valued as any other human being, despite what some may say or think. Though essentially a safe and conventional film for all ages, Love, Simon caused a beautiful uproar in teens coming out to friends and family members, taught straight audiences to be allies rather than adversaries, undoubtedly sparked importation conversation with parents, and best of all, united younger generations in one of the most hopeful and inspiring moviegoing experiences I have ever experienced. When you feel like your eardrums are about to pop because teens love the sight of two boys almost kissing, there is an undeniable sense of hope that has simply never existed under the precedence of a film.
Perhaps I’m allowing my emotions to cloud my judgment, but to this day, I have not been able to shake that theatrical experience. It is absolutely inspiring knowing that there is an inherent lack of bigotry among most kids today, and it makes me wish films like this existed when I was a teen. (All the more power to these kids.) Theatrical experience aside, Love, Simon is in no way a gimmick, which is almost as great as knowing the next generation of teens won’t grow up to be bigots. Love, Simon has an effortlessly alluring nature and style of comedy, comparable to a modernized John Hughes film. Simon’s friends have a natural chemistry, and as a teen comedy, it more than succeeds. We follow Simon as he befriends a mysterious boy from his school, known only as “Blue,” who came out anonymously on a popular school blog. As their online romance blossoms, so do Simon’s ethical dilemmas along the way, because as we all know, coming-of-age is never easy—neither in life nor in the genre.
Despite falling into a few coming-of-age genre tropes, Love, Simon manages to be a breath of fresh air and an immensely clever film. Best of all, it is an important one, where its message of tolerance and vitality for our culture are intertwined with witty banter, brilliant one-liners, and eventually, take full dramatic force. Jennifer Garner is a powerhouse as Simon’s mother and has one of the most heart-wrenching monologues of the year, bound to cause lumps in throats (or, in my case, full-on sobbing). Josh Duhamel, additionally, sells his role as the overly-sensitive dad who never quite knows the right thing to say but is as loving as before. This may be perhaps the film’s largest criticism—it is far too clean and easy of a life for Simon. He is surrounded by accepting and loving family and friends, is upper-middle-class, handsome, popular, and for the most part, has an easy life. Being gay was never truly a struggle for him. The film is clean, joyous, and redeems even its most villainous of characters. In this respect, it exists almost like a figment of an imagination—something that is far too juvenile and whimsical to be real. However, this does not take away from the pure enjoyment of Love, Simon and the fact that is has brought both kids and adults together to teach a lesson of acceptance and love. It is a beautiful and socially poignant one that not only should be seen but must.
Love, Simon premieres Saturday, November 10th at 8:00pm ET on HBO!