Same sex love stories in American cinema are traditionally the province of independent films. There have been films that have crossed over, notably 2005’s Brokeback Mountain starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. Essentially, Hollywood relegates gay characters to the supporting cast, or presents them in a farcical setting, notably in the Robin Williams-Nathan Lane box office hit, The Birdcage (1996).
Love, Simon, adapted from Becky Albertalli’s young adult novel, ‘Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker and directed by Greg Berlanti, who began his career on the popular TV series Dawson’s Creek but more recently produced the superhero series’ Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl, is potentially a game changer, a film that normalises homosexuality currently playing in over 2,000 screens across America. It is released by 20th Century Fox, a studio that attempted this once before, with the 1982 film, Making Love, starring Michael Ontkean as Zach, a married Los Angeles doctor who finds himself drawn to gay hedonist Bart (Clash of the Titans’ Harry Hamlin). In that film, as the advertising makes clear, Zach’s wife Claire (Kate Jackson of Charlie’s Angels fame) had to deal with her unexpected ‘problem’, apparently the only way Hollywood could portray homosexuality in America under Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Thankfully, though not fast enough, perceptions have changed. Love, Simon has a story that is relatable to gay and straight audiences alike. It is about a young in-crowd High School student, Simon (Nick Robinson, last seen in Everything, Everything) who finds a soul-mate on line in the mysterious Blue, a young man who writes about his gay identity online, but hasn’t come out to his family yet. Simon, who is exactly in that position, opens up and the two begin a correspondence that stops short of them meeting. Then Simon’s secret is discovered by another student, socially-awkward Martin (Logan Miller), who is nuts about one of Simon’s best friends, Abby (Alexandra Schipp) and blackmails him into engineering a date.
As irritating, dweebish and opportunistic as Martin is, we don’t totally hate him, because he is like every teenager who wants the opportunity to impress the beautiful girl who doesn’t notice him. However, in admitting Martin into his group, Simon is drawn into deception that drives his friendship with Abby, Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) and Leah (Katherine Langford) apart.
Berlanti directs with a lightness of touch that extends to a sequence that asks ‘why don’t heterosexuals have to go through a declaration of sexuality to their parents?’ This is a cue for an amusing montage. Tony Hale provides comic relief as the smart-phone confiscating teacher, Mr Worth, who knows that social media has its place, but not in his school halls. Essentially, this is another of those High School movies in which adults barely register.
As far as we can tell in the movie, Simon’s role with his friends is as designated driver – he also encourages his younger sister’s dubious cooking. The film has so much plot that it scarcely squeezes in a ‘normal’ conversation, except when Leah opens up about her feelings. Meanwhile Simon assumes the role of detective, quizzing potential Blues, but finds that he can’t keep doing disagreeable things for good reason.
The finale is immensely satisfying. Perhaps the film’s most radical moment is not the gay kiss but that, given the opportunity, Simon doesn’t deliver a single sock to the jaw of the weak-willed individual who compromised his status quo in a way that, say, Holly Gennero (Bonnie Bedelia) deals summary justice to reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) in Die Hard. Incidental pleasures include a football game embarrassment and a fancy dress party, both of which ensure that apart from its message of tolerance and equivalence, Love, Simon delivers the pleasures of the High School movie.
Love, Simon is out 6th April!