Hot on the heels of Lady Bird comes the next great high school movie in Love, Simon. It’s a tenderly told coming(-out)-of-age tale, with timeless themes of acceptance and identity set against the digital landscapes of communication, exploitation, and connection.
Nick Robinson gives a starmaking performance as Simon Spier, a teen just starting to embrace his homosexuality, whose “coming-out” moment is threatened by blackmail. It takes a toll on his friends, his family, and his online pen pal, an anonymous figure “Blue” with whom Simon has forged a deeply personal, however digital, relationship.
He knows Blue attends his school, but that’s about it. He looks for clues and references wherever he goes, and finds the boy of his dreams in different moments of his everyday: a chatty waiter at a waffle house, the quiet piano player for the school musical, a friendly acquaintance. This is translated to film to compelling effect, as Blue’s voice and appearance evolve throughout the movie, resembling the closest match Simon can piece together at that exact time.
It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, as the sole gay kid striving to find connection. It’s hard to discern a friendly smile and personal demeanor into a gay “cue” that another male could be more than just a friend. The excitement of possibility, and anxiety of rejection, from so many potential “suitors” ring very true to the closeted homosexual experience.
Just how acutely and perceptively Love, Simon captures these elements is one of its greatest strengths. In a highlight moment (with stellar acting by Mr. Robinson), Simon confronts the one who “outs” him, denying Simon his own empowerment and agency, to stake out his own identity on his own terms. The complications and nuances of this milestone moment for any young adult are difficult to translate to film, much less in a studio picture for a mainstream audience; but Love, Simon does it to astonishing effect.
But more than capturing the struggles and strife of the gay experience, Love, Simon also finds joy, warmth, and affirmation. After coming out to his family, Simon’s mother (Jennifer Garner) confesses that Simon is “more of [him]self than [he’s] been in years.” The conflict tearing Simon apart is the fear that coming out will change others’ perception of him, as though there were a “before” and “after” to his identity; but he’s been the same Simon all along, and his loved ones know that.
I could have used a movie like Love, Simon ten years ago, and I’m so thankful that we have it now. As our cultural climate is evolving to be one of greater diversity and inclusion, it’s great progress to see a story like this, geared toward the younger audience who needs it most, available on such a large scale. The “It Gets Better” initiative launched in 2010, promising that the troubles young LGBT people face will someday diminish; in 2018, young people are being re-affirmed through stories promising that they can have, and deserve to have, happiness right now in the present.