As Black Panther continues to dominate the box office and resonate with audiences all around the world, there’s little question that its monumental success is largely rooted in its appeal to the underserved African-American audience. Their culture and heritage is presented on screen in a major blockbuster film in a way that no one has ever seen before. In the wake of that film comes Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon. The LGBTQ community has been fighting uphill battles on many fronts in recent years. In ways, progress has been made. But the intolerant have recently been emboldened – perhaps more so than ever before – so that relative progress has often been met with a pungent ugliness hiding behind faux morality.
So, Love, Simon comes along at an excellent time. The film tells the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a high school student who is struggling to come to terms with his burgeoning realization that he is gay. His fears are many, ranging from not wanting to throw turmoil into his loving family life to dealing with the social ramifications at school. When another student discovers his secret, Simon must choose between succumbing to blackmail or being outed on someone else’s terms.
Love, Simon succeeds on so many different levels that I’m frankly having trouble deciding where to begin. The most readily apparent theme in the film is, of course, tolerance. Simon’s sexuality is not the only device used to address this idea, though it’s naturally the primary one. The characters in the film – Simon’s family, friends, and other classmates – are written and portrayed beautifully and authentically, with a wide variety of personality types and beliefs. But, like the real world (though this is easy to forget, at times), there are far more good people in Simon’s world than there are bad. The bad ones are there – they need to be, in order to preserve artistic integrity, which is the single most important component of any creative endeavor – but the good ones dominate. Yet, all of them are complex, with different layers, personalities, and thought processes. A couple of them may be slightly exaggerated for humorous effect, but when it comes down to it, the film feels entirely real and it’s largely due to the characters and cast.
The aforementioned complexity also leads to the topic of forgiveness and understanding being approached. Good people do bad things and good people say stupid things because even good people are flawed and sometimes it’s just hard to know what the right things to say and do are, in a given situation. But it’s important that, as a society, we understand that and allow others who we know to be decent and well-meaning to make some indiscretions (within reason, of course) without punishing them for life. Berlanti goes out of his way to highlight not only the complexity of humanity but the importance of seeing outside of ourselves when that complexity results in emotional pain.
And then there’s also the theme of being confident and comfortable with being oneself. This is obviously conveyed through Simon’s arc but it’s not limited to only him. At one point early in the film (and I’ll keep this vague to avoid spoilers), Simon is attempting to help fellow student Martin (Logan Miller) catch the eye of a girl at their school. Simon is telling Martin that he needs to start by adopting a new wardrobe. Martin, who isn’t exactly most people’s idea of a pillar of wisdom, stops Simon and remarks that he isn’t looking for Simon’s help in changing who he is; he wants help while still being himself. In that moment, Simon comes to understand that other people struggle with identity issues, as well, even if in different contexts. As long as no one is being hurt, it’s critical for every one of us to feel comfortable in our own skin and our convictions, and Love, Simon makes a point of communicating that idea to the audience in various ways.
Aside from these very important themes, I would like to make sure I state that the movie works exceptionally well with regards to all of the standard filmmaking staples, as well. As I’ve already alluded to, the cast is tremendous and memorable (Natasha Rothwell’s Ms. Albright is my favorite), the dialogue is engaging, the story is compelling, the directing is effective, and, at the appropriate times, the movie is genuinely funny. The audience in my screening and I all laughed out loud on a regular basis, as the screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) combined with the excellent delivery by the cast transform the film into an experience that is equally entertaining and poignant.
What it all boils down to is that Love, Simon is a story that is relatable for all, regardless of sexuality. The themes are not limited to just one single person or one single struggle. We all have our struggles and said struggles are compounded by our social anxieties. The film could have just as easily been titled Love Simon rather than Love, Simon because the message is that we all deserve to love and to be loved.
Yet, even though the themes aren’t limited to sexuality, the movie will likely speak very strongly to young viewers who identify as LGBTQ but have yet to come out and reveal themselves to the world. I can definitely see this movie assisting many people in finding the strength and the courage to own their truth. For some people, the film will be entertainment. For others, it will be inspiration. For all, it will be touching, moving, funny, enlightening, thoughtful, smart, inclusive, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and may even eventually come to be known as an important milestone. There is nothing not to love about Love, Simon.
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