By Maggie O’Hara
Situated in the center of the whirlwind of changes that have taken place in Hollywood in the past few years, the addition of more LGBTQ+ characters in movies has recently become far more commonplace. Films like “Carol” (2015) and recent Best Picture winner, “Moonlight” (2016) sparked interest and debate within this growing genre. Movies centered around LGBTQ+ relationships are increasingly widespread, marketed to and consumed by larger and larger audiences.
The newest addition to a growing canon of films about LGBTQ+ relationships, “Love, Simon” is truly lovable. The 2018 film, while perhaps not revolutionary or perfect, is an important and well-done portrayal of LGBTQ+ youth in the media in an adorable and relatable package.
“Love, Simon,” based on the book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, centers around a teenage boy — the titular Simon — played by Nick Robinson. During his final year of high school, Simon struggles with disclosing the fact that he is gay to those around him, including his friends and family. Throughout the film, he discusses this issue with an online penpal, “Blue,” with whom he eventually finds himself falling in love.
The storyline, while not complex or groundbreaking, focuses on one person’s narrative, which makes the movie uniquely small-scaled. By doing so, the film becomes an important example of LGBTQ+ representation. Simon’s self-description of being “just like you” may be overly simplistic, but the movie certainly promotes this message. It shows the story of one ordinary teen who happens to be gay. This portrayal of Simon, as well as several humanized LGBTQ+ characters throughout the movie, builds the foundation of wider acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and encourages viewers to unlearn internalized homophobia.
The film also avoids falling into problematic banalities, particularly by avoiding the perpetuation of the myth that it’s “not a big deal anymore” to come out to your family, friends or community. When Simon is outed to his school, it is undoubtedly a big deal, and Simon, like so many other LGBTQ+ youth, was the target of harassment because of it. This plot point subverts the myth quite well. Likewise, when Simon comes out to his family, his mother, played by Jennifer Garner, and his father, played by Josh Duhamel, delivered separate but powerful declarations of support for their son. These scenes humanize Simon once again as a character and leave the audience bawling.
Simon’s identity is also never questioned in the film; it was instead simply taken as a fact and accepted. Although Simon’s super-accepting family and peers may not be the norm in real life, affirmation of Simon’s identity was a key theme within the film. In an important reminder to its viewership, the film strongly asserts that LGBTQ+ people should be allowed to come out on their own terms without coercion of any kind. By including this, the film praised ownership of one’s one identity and the path taken to discover and share that identity.
“Love, Simon” is also a particularly important example of representation in the way that it depicts a fairly diverse group of LGBTQ+ characters. As in “Call Me By Your Name” (2016), movies about LGBTQ+ often focus on relationships between white men. Even though “Love, Simon” similarly focuses on a white gay young man, other characters represented include two black, gay men, one of which was also Jewish. However, the film certainly could have included more LGBTQ+ women and could have mentioned some of the other issues LGBTQ+ youth face, such as homelessness and mental illness.
While this film was neither perfect nor unconventional in terms of cinematography or plot, it was an indisputable win for LGBTQ+ representation. “Love, Simon” will join recent films like “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (2013) and “Moonlight” (2016) in a growing collection of films based around LGBTQ+ relationships. However, “Love, Simon” differentiates itself from these earlier films through marketing. This movie was definitely made for teenagers. While other films in the category cast a wider net in audience, this film conveys its message in a format that teenagers, perhaps the group which most needs examples of LGBTQ+ representation for self-discovery and mutual understanding, can enjoyably consume. It presents the simple fact of LGBTQ+ existence in a somewhat realistic and definitely adorable package, and it humanizes LGBTQ+ characters in a meaningful way that is very limited in media meant for teenage audiences. With this combination of representation and humanization, the film fights internalized homophobia in a particularly important demographic in our society and sets itself apart from others within the genre.