Love, Simon ★★★★½

Since I watched Love, Simon a couple days ago, it's been persistently on my mind. It immediately resonated with me in a pretty profound and personal way, and left me feeling both joyful and sad, and that all seems odd for what in many ways is a pretty stereotypical teen romcom. Particularly considering I'm now 27. I've been thinking about why it hit me as it did, and wanted to get out some thoughts.

In terms of a review, I have to acknowledge from the outset, as I've thought about it I've realised it would be hard if not impossible for me to attempt to judge this film in any sort of objective way. It resonated with me in a very personal way, as most films which truly mean something to us do, and I'm embracing it fully on that basis.

Love, Simon for the most part deploys the usual tropes and conventions of an American romantic teen comedy drama. We follow Simon - a teenage boy (played by actor in his early 20's) in his last year of high school, and his gang of friends, as Simon begins to pursue a romantic interest before [the involvement of another party creates some obstacles to that relationship, which Simon attempts to overcome with often humorous results. This of course leads to some tragedy, which Simon must then overcome in the final act with a renewed perspective].

There are however some key differences in this film. Simon's gay, and while it seems has largely come to terms with his sexuality, is not yet out. Likewise his romantic interest, who he gets in touch with online. Both communicate under pseudonyms (the other boy going by "Blue"), and don't even know each others identities aside from the fact they're both at the same school. This allows for numerous, often funny encounters between Simon and other boys at his school, as he tries to second guess which one might be "Blue". This brought back memories for me as a closeted teenage kid trying to work out who might be gay, and sometimes desperately wanting to believe that someone else was, all the while making sure never to veer too close to revealing myself.

We see Simon's coming out to his family and friends, and for the most part these sorts of key moments in the life of a teenage kid coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out, are handled well and with care. There's a particularly moving moment between Simon and his mother (played by Jennifer Garner) where, when Simon asks if she'd known he was gay, she explains that while she didn't, she'd felt he was holding something back, "These last few years, it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath." She goes on to say, "As soon as you came out, you said mom, I'm still me. I need you to hear this. You are still you, Simon. You are still the same son who I love to tease, and who your father depends on for just about anything. You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you've been in a very long time. You deserve everything you want". It's a touching moment, and one that's important for young kids who may themselves be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, and how it defines them (or doesn't), to hear.

So, while it's odd for a film of this genre to feel important, Love, Simon feels important in its existence. The completely conventional presentation of the story of a teenage kid coming to terms with his sexuality, is probably exactly why this does feel important. According to the Wikipedia article at least, this is the first film by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teen romance.

And that brings me onto why I think this film resonated with me as it did.

I wish this film existed when I was at school. As a (now 27 year old) gay man, on the whole, I know I'm incredibly lucky to have been born when I was, and to have grown up when I have. Had I been born just ten years earlier, my entire school life would have been under the shadow of Section 28 (a discriminatory UK-wide law brought in under Thatcher which prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality"). Thirty years earlier, and I can't quite imagine just how different and repressed my life would be. As it was, by the time I started high school Section 28 had thankfully been repealed in Scotland, and as a young kid starting to become aware of my sexuality I was oblivious to such recent and hateful legal discrimination until many years later. In terms of presentation of gay people in media in any sort of relatable way, I can't remember much. I do remember there being a gay romance in UK police procedural drama "The Bill", which aired around that time (2002), and of course was presented in some scandalous fashion. I'd have been 12, and the fact I can remember it so clearly now speaks to the impact it had on me, seeing the way I was realising I felt reflected back at me from the television, at least in some crude form. I also remember there being some controversy in the media around a same-sex kiss even being shown on television, particularly broadcast in an evening slot when "children could be watching". It's amazing how far we've come, but also how long it took us to get here.

I've found reading some of the reviews others have left here, talking about how the film has impacted them, both fascinating and moving. It's amazing that this sort of film can have such a profound impact, especially going as far as to be a trigger to give someone the strength or motivation to come out, even if just to themselves. LGBT cinema may now be somewhat mainstream, with the beautiful and pensive "Call Me By Your Name" most recently picking up deserved awards and attention, alongside plenty other examples of more relatable presentation of same-sex romance in cinema, but there's clearly something different about gay romance being so positively and unapologetically presented as Hollywood romance (for all its undoubted flaws), in a way previously reserved for the strictly heterosexual.

I'll admit I've always related a little more to the sort of idealised and romantic perception of relationships of the sort that Hollywood likes to present.. at least more than I know I sensibly should. I know plenty artists that I respect and whose work I love who would, and have, called out this unrealistic presentation of relationships for the false expectations and harm it may bring. But then, society's idea of the relationship I'm sure is always evolving to some extent - just look at Tinder - and I've never quite seen what's wrong with, or at least haven't quite been able to help myself from, aspiring for a great romance and partner. I think the roots of that need, for me, comes from the same teenage years I spent knowing I was gay but desperate for no one else to, feeling alone while surrounded by friends dating and doing what teenagers do, having to watch "The Bill" to see some reflection of what I felt, both wanting to be normal and not alone, and not understanding why there was any reason I couldn't be both.

Being gay (or bisexual) is fine and normal and shouldn't really be much of a deal at all. It of course should not need to be said to anyone in 2018, it would be nice to think it's so plainly obvious to us all by this point, but the cultural and societal legacy of homophobia remains as pervasive as it is subtle. Being attracted to people of the same gender need not define you, gay people are innately the same as everyone else with that aspect of them aside, and same-sex relationships are in reality pretty much just the same as any other relationships - at times flawed and even crushing, and at times all encompassing in the euphoria they bring. As Simon's mother reminds him, "You are still you, Simon." and also "You deserve everything you want".

In the end, Love, Simon's romantic pay-off is of course complete Hollywood cliché, and slightly silly, and in this particular film that's exactly what was needed. Besides, cliché bullshit or not - I really don't care. I still want to... I still do believe that "everyone deserves a great love story".