Generation Z will probably see Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon exactly for what it is: An endearing, marvelously delightful John Hughesian coming-of-age romance about a gay high-school kid who falls in love with another guy. It is lovely and crowd-pleasing, and in so many ways, NBD. It’s just a movie about two people who fall in love. In fact, despite how very good it is, I suspect the film will only see modest returns at the box office, because, for the 13-25-year-old target demo, Love, Simon is just a rom-com. A very good one, perhaps, but love stories aren’t exactly box-office gold (see, e.g., the $56 million generated by Oscar-nominated The Big Sick).
But for those of us who grew up on the films of John Hughes, it’s impossible not to reflect upon just how far we have come that a major studio is casually releasing a gay love story set in a high school in 2400 theaters. In so many ways, our nation is going to hell, but when you see a film like Black Panther make a $1 billion at the box office, or Wonder Woman earn $820 million, or a movie like Love, Simon rolling out nationally without an outfit like One Million Moms or religious nuts organizing nationwide boycotts, it’s hard not to appreciate just how far we have come. Yes, obviously, we still have a long way to go, but it wasn’t that long ago when my father was nearly beaten to death with a Coke bottle over the simple fact that he was gay, or that my best friend growing up (and the guy who helped me start this site) had to sleep in my closet for a weekend after his Dad found out he was gay, punched him in the face, and kicked him out of his home.
And here comes Love, Simon without a burble of controversy.
How lucky we are to be alive right now.
Love Simon concerns Simon Spears (Nick Robinson), a totally average high school kid, aside from the fact that he looks like a Clearasil spokesperson. He has a great family. He has a great set of friends. He’s had a great middle-class upbringing. Everything in his life is perfect, except that he has a secret. He’s gay. He hasn’t come out to his friends or family yet. He’s not ashamed. He’s not afraid of being alienated, exactly. He’s just afraid of change. He’s afraid of being seen differently — not badly, just differently.
That comes to a head when another anonymous classmate comes out on the high-school gossip blog. Through a series of emails, Simon and this other guy fall for each other; they inspire each other to open up, to be themselves. In some ways, they come out together, but in other ways, Simon’s coming out is forced upon him. He’s not ready to come out yet, but another classmate, Martin (Logan Miller), finds out he’s gay and blackmails Simon into setting one of his best friends, Abby (Alexandra Shipp), up with Martin, only Abby is not interested in Martin.
That’s where much of the conflict in this story arises: In Simon’s efforts to keep his secret, not because he’s ashamed, but because he’s just not ready, in very much the same way that Simon’s other best friend, Leah (Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why) is not ready to admit that she’s in love with Simon. It creates drama within the friend group, while Simon, meanwhile, tries to seek out the identity of the other anonymous closeted guy with whom he’s fallen in love.
All the conflict comes from the fact that Simon has a secret, not the secret itself. Not that there’s no homophobia in Love, Simon: There are a couple of bullies who taunt the only other openly gay kid in the high school, but their comeuppance is sweet and delicious and more satisfyingly eviscerating than any death in any superhero movie ever (keep an eye on the drama teacher in this movie (Natasha Rothwell); she is fire.)
On top of that, Jennifer Garner is a goddamn delight in this, and fuck it: So is Josh Duhamel, and if you don’t cry a bucket of happy tears for the way they react to their son coming out, you are a dead, soulless troll who lives under a bridge.
Look: There is nothing groundbreaking about this story, aside from the fact that it exists on such a wide scale. It is sweet, and lovely, and wonderful. It’s a Molly Ringwald movie, or a Julia Stiles movie, only its lead is a boy, and the object of his affection is another boy, and the movie so refreshingly doesn’t treat that distinction any differently than if it were a boy and a girl, and the audience probably won’t treat that distinction any differently, either. And the fact that so many high school kids can watch this movie and see themselves in it the same way I saw myself in John Cusack movies brings me more joy than I have felt from a coming-of-age rom-com in a very, very long time. See it. It will bring you happiness.