Content warning: this review mentions suicide
Love, Simon, directed by Greg Berlanti, is without a doubt one of the most talked about films of the year. Seeking to normalise the experience of a gay teen’s coming out within the high school coming-of-age genre, the film has been almost unanimously lauded by critics and audiences alike.
However, praise of this film stemming solely from its significance as mainstream representation overlooks some of its deeply problematic issues. In the ‘normalising’ of Simon’s story, crucial realities of the queer experience are offhandedly dealt with.
What’s more, the normalisation of Simon’s sexuality is contingent on the approval of others. In 2018, ‘coming out’ shouldn’t be about getting the validation of those around you, it’s about unashamedly being who you are.
Simon is a closeted high school student who emails and falls in love with Blue, an anonymous gay student on his high school’s online forum. One day, he accidentally leaves his emails open on a school computer, which are discovered by Martin, who blackmails Simon: threatening to post screenshots if he doesn’t help him get with Simon’s friend Abby. When Abby rejects Martin, he outs Simon to the whole school.
What is deeply unsettling about Love, Simon is the way in which it uses Simon’s outing as the vehicle for his personal resolution. The film barely villainizes Martin, whose actions could be described as no less than malicious and sociopathic, and, as has tragically occurred in similar real-life situations, could very easily lead a closeted queer person to take their own life.
Instead, Simon is rendered selfish and manipulative, having inadvertently created conflict with his friends through his crippling fear of being outed. It is Simon, dealing with enormous external pressure, who is made to explain himself and regain the respect of his friends and community by apologising through an online post.
At the climax of the film, Simon asks his love interest Blue to meet him at the school fair, on the Ferris wheel. Simon sits waiting on the ride while his peers gather below, cheering and watching him quite literally like a hamster on a wheel. When Blue finally arrives, they kiss at the top of the Ferris wheel to uproarious applause from the crowd.
Yes, this is a corny ending to a corny film, but it also represents the most patronising form of tokenistic straight alliance, almost to the point of humiliation. Not only is it alienating to its subjects, it enforces the idea that queer people and their relationships need to be validated by the straight majority.
Love, Simon’s existence is important, but it fails to empower its queer audiences in the way that it should, and others have done (A Fantastic Woman or Beats Per Minute, to name a few). Everyone does deserve a good love story but, as queer people, we have to expect and demand better ones.