I generally try not to get too excited about movies that people continuously hail as “important” before they actually come out. Almost every review of movies like this, that deal with a social issue and are meant for mainstream audiences, no matter what they actually have to say about the movie itself, makes sure to reiterate how important it is that there is finally a mainstream movie out there that deals with the issue. The cynic in me always suggests that these critics want the world to know that they, too, have progressive politics.
Love, Simon is definitely one of these “issue” movies. And I loved it. Politics aside, its portrayal of the often-painful coming out process was incredibly realistic, and not whatsoever gimmicky. Advertised as a teen rom-com with a twist, it depicts a teenage guy, the titular Simon, struggling with his conflicting desires to be open about his sexuality and to retain a sense of normalcy. He seems to live in a fairly progressive area, and knows that in the end he will be accepted, but is still repressed by both his own insecurities and the expectations others place on him. His struggle with his sexuality is far more central to the story than the romantic subplot, but this seemed fitting to me.
Based on a novel written by a (heterosexual) clinical psychologist who specializes in dealing with teenagers, the core theme of repression struck a chord in me. Even though Simon is lucky enough to live in a fairly accepting area with a fairly accepting family, there’s always that caveat, fairly. People won’t care that much. Most people are open-minded. You probably won’t have any issues. And that’s the reason why he continues to repress who he really is.
As someone who also grew up gay in a fairly liberal enclave, I can definitely relate. I’ve lived all over, but most of my childhood and the first part of my adolescence was spent in a college town in northern California. This town, Davis, had all the liberal cultural hallmarks‒a thriving farmer’s market full of organic food, its own offshoot of Occupy Wall Street in the local park, and lots of Hillary Clinton yard signs.
It’s easy to forget, then, the “yes on Prop 8” yard signs of my childhood that supported a proposition in 2008 that repealed gay marriage in California in the name of “family values” (yep, the bluest state in the nation). It’s easy to forget the flamboyantly gay kid at my elementary school who was so relentlessly bullied (by people who would grow up to post Instagram pictures of themselves getting wasted at San Francisco Pride) that he transferred to another district, or about one of my best friends, whose parents threatened to excommunicate her when she came out of the closet.
The movie doesn’t overtly deal with any of this‒politics are mentioned only in passing and the setting is left deliberately ambiguous to appeal to the widest swath of Americans as possible‒but it is still a movie that seems very attuned to the realities of its time.
The core conflict of the protagonist‒to be normal‒is one that I can personally relate to, and questions the idea that we’ve somehow, since the federal legalization of gay marriage three short years ago, suddenly leapt into a post-homophobic America, at least in our liberal enclaves. Maybe I’m giving the movie too much credit for reading into it that much, but I think it deals with the subtle struggles of being “different” in a society that supposedly celebrates difference remarkably well.
The conversations that Simon has with his family and friends about his sexuality are the strongest points of the film. Each one feels like a release of tension, and through this tension we see the weight of all that secrecy and repression. For the most part, it’s a light-hearted story, but these conversations have a poignancy to it that reflect the reality of coming out.
Sadly, it’s almost always going to be a risk.