A first of its kind, Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon is a feel-good, coming-of-age story with a welcomed 21st century spin on the heteronormative - and often clichéd - romcom. And it's having a huge impact on young audiences across Australia.
I wish Love, Simon was around when I was a teen. I would have relished the opportunity to watch it with my parents, and have a healthy, enriching discussion about gender and sexual identity in the car ride home (ha! My 16-year-old self would shudder at these words).
The film - based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 book titled Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda - tells the story of Simon, a popular, closeted 17-year-old student who is yearning to come out to his family and friends. Simon’s highly-guarded secret starts to slowly unravel when he begins chatting to an anonymous peer named ‘Blue’ online. Masquerading under the pseudonym ‘Jacques’, Simon and ‘Blue’ come out to one another over email and eventually fall into an all-consuming love affair without revealing their true identities.
Fantasising throughout the corridors and classrooms about who ‘Blue’ really is, Simon's playful pursuits are jeopardised when a drama comrade discovers his email chain and blackmails him, forcing him to manipulate his closest friends. But it's far from doom and gloom. What follows is a laugh-out-loud, poignant narrative about discovering and staying true to your authentic self – a challenge I’m still navigating at 29.
Love Simon is so inspiring, teens have come out to their families after watching it, including one of the stars of the film, Aussie actor Keiynan Lonsdale (who plays Abraham Greenfeld). In a recent interview with Enterainment Tonight, Keiynan said the film gave him the courage to come out publicly because it made him realise that "being yourself is something worth celebrating."
What makes Love, Simon unique and endearingly thought-provoking is the way in which it addresses stereotyping and casual homophobia in a simplistic way.
There is a particularly memorable scene where Simon fantasises about a world where straight kids have to come out to their parents as exactly that – straight. The parents are mortified, and it beautifully cements just how ridiculous the notion of a 'superior' sexual orientation is.
As a teen, my parents didn’t ask me whether I was gay or straight, they just assumed I was straight. Straight is the ‘default’, as the film suggests. This doesn’t mean my parents were being deliberately insensitive, like many other baby boomers (not all), their outlook was shaped by society’s perpetual heteronormative stereotypes. For closeted teens, unintentional assumptions about sexual identity can be detrimental to their self-esteem, confidence, and maturation, as they succumb to the fear of what others think about them every day.
While Simon's mother (played by Jennifer Garner) is supportive, his slightly one dimensional, blokey dad (played by Josh Duhamel) makes a number of remarks throughout the film about his son's sexual orientation without even having a conversation with Simon about what he identifies as. For example, in one cringe-worthy but important scene, he assumes Simon was masturbating to Gigi Hadid when he was in fact swooning over the glistening male gardener across the road. While it may seem like an innocent mistake, it adds to the burgeoning number of small indiscretions that were made toward Simon on a regular basis, ultimately making the highly-desirable task of coming out seem difficult and unobtainable.
Simon struggles to come out to even his closest of friends, including his best friend Leah (played by 13 Reasons Why actress, Katherine Langford).
While it’s not cutting-edge cinema, the film's sense of ordinariness makes it an important love story. Love, Simon is the perfect medium for parents who are looking for a way to broach the topic of sexual orientation with their kids.
The tale of navigating puberty is as old as cinema itself, however Love, Simon explores it through a refreshing, glossy lens. The film’s familiarity allows parents and teens to watch it together, and encourages fun and non-threatening discussion about tolerance, acceptance, and ultimately, everyone’s need to be loved.
Love, Simon is an uplifting story bursting with heart and integrity. If you’re looking for a rainy weekend activity to share with your kids, give Love, Simon a go – you never know, you might turn those typical teen grunts and groans into stimulating conversation.
Love, Simon is rated M, and is recommended for audiences over the age of 15. It’s in Australian cinemas now.