I don’t think very much about my sexual orientation. Yes, I’m bisexual, but I never formally “came out.” At no point did I ever find such a practice to be necessary. One day, I admitted to myself of something I had suspected for a while, which was that I was attracted to men as well as women. This happened while I was a freshman in college, going to school at a very conservative university in northern Utah, where gay teens are cast out of the homes of their Mormon parents. Where the LDS church has openly supported anti-gay legislation and doctrine. Where the suicide rate is highest among queer young people. Me? As someone who isn’t straight, I have the easiest time possible, but that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real for everyone else who does not abide by heteronormativity.
Nothing approaching half this level of conflict seems to even exist to Love, Simon, a film so saccharine and eager-to-please that one cannot help but throw the picture a bone here and there. Greg Berlanti’s bumbling exploration of a young man struggling to come out to his friends and family. Love, Simon is earnest and inoffensive, and often times downright silly, with little in the way of tension, opting, instead for charming. Despite being made by a gay filmmaker, Love, Simon is somehow among the most problematic queer films of the modern era.
The world of Love, Simon is something out of a fairytale. Unimaginatively hipster Simon (Nick Robinson) and his friends live in an affluent, socially progressive community. In fact, two of his best friends are black characters who are just so cute together. Their high school seems to have two token bullies who verbally antagonize the seemingly only openly gay kid. That is as much pushback as the movie gives. And are these two regressive clowns the catalyst for any real drama? No. They pop in interstitially, but remain largely absent as a minor threat in a largely tolerant world. Of course, closeted Simon only considers addressing his sexual preferences when a presumed classmate anonymously laments on a school blind item forum the secrecy where they, too, have relegated their gayness.
Contacting this mystery beau by tracking down the email address with which they posted their confession, Simon, under the pseudonym, begins a correspondence with “Blue.” Through their back-and-fourth, Simon fantasizes who this mystery person could be, filling in the blanks with whichever of his very handsome classmates he suspects could be gay—never once is the notion of “Blue” being a woman or of being physically unappealing ever even teased. The conceit is one of the mildly clever touches to a film that is otherwise quite ham-fisted, and this device segues pretty nicely into the second-act conflict. After contacting “Blue” using a school computer, his unsecured Gmail account—one made specifically for talking to “Blue”—by his annoying, and school musical co-star Martin (Logan Miller), Simon, and by extension “Blue,” is compromised. Martin blackmails Simon into helping him into convincing Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp) into going out with Martin. And, despite Nick Robinson’s best efforts, Simon’s entire personality is “nervous about telling everyone I’m gay,” this is what the movie lives and dies on
What follows is a solid second act that recall the romantic hijinks common in the comedies of Shakespeare. In throwing Martin into his circle, Simon becomes a Puck with a sort of gun to his head, contorting his friends’ romantic trajectories to make room for the sniveling, and impossibly dorky Martin. When Simon’s close friend Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) admits that he has feelings for Abby, he sets Nick up with best friend Leah (Katherine Langford), despite Leah all but professing her love for Simon. Simon’s gambit is horrible and manipulative, but the scheme culminates in Martin upstaging a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of a Homecoming football game to ask Abby to go out with him. The entire sequence is the kind of delightfully cringeworthy shot a film like this needs, but because Martin, like every character here, is essentially a cartoon malleable enough to serve the tone, the whole affair devolves into a solid dove-inclusive punchline.
Despite a few well-earned bits and some solid craftsmanship, Love, Simon ultimately falls apart. This is a story ostensibly about a young person who wants to control his narrative, but whose narrative never ends up being about him or his journey. Love, Simon seems to be more about how everyone else deals with Simon’s eventual coming out. This is a film that rewards characters for making someone’s identity about themselves. And that might make sense if Simon went to such lengths that he was sabotaging everyone’s lives, but he mostly annoys his friends and allows one person to skid into their own devastating humiliation. Simon knows that no one would really judge him for being gay, but somehow doesn’t know how to embrace being gay, despite, one assumes, that he knows and accepts this about himself. Again, this is how shallow Love, Simon is. Simon doesn’t know how to handle telling people that he’s gay, other than the vague reasoning that he “doesn’t want things to change.” This is never given any real meaning. The film would rather riff on imaginary conflict and swells of a synth pop score that comes off as baby Cliff Martinez, squandering a cast of barely-sketched characters—including Tony Hale as post-millennial Mr. Belding, and the aforementioned Katherine Langford, who manages to bring a genuine soul to an otherwise utter contrivance—rushing to an ending so offensively forced that the final frames should’ve read, “Ain’t I just adorable? LOVE ME ALREADY!!!” Love, Simon sets up the safest possible circumstances for the mere conversation of coming out to occur, and yet, the film messes that up, too.
Love, Simon is trying to be warm and well-meaning. And by all accounts, this is a film that is hard not to at least feel good about, despite being so profoundly flawed. One wonders who this film is meant for. Should families of gay youth see this film, because all they can do is talk about how they feel about Simon, when how they feel about Simon or his orientation has nothing to do with them, and when they have no reason to be giving monologues about him in that way. Is this for gay people, many of whom probably wish they could’ve grown up in a time and in a place as idyllic and non-threatening as where Simon is from? For as badly as Love, Simon wants to have a genuine conversation about something that can be very messy to discuss, so little of the film could be described as honest or understood. In an era with no shortage of competent queer stories, including those for children and teenagers, Love, Simon has no excuse to be this clumsy and inarticulate, even if Simon himself might.