Joyous, heartbreaking, and a movie I wish I could have seen when I was 16.
Mathew Whitehead

28 Feb 2018 - 9:47 AM  UPDATED 28 Feb 2018 - 9:47 AM

Have you ever seen a film that you wish you could take with you in a time machine to show your younger self? For me, it was always The Red ShoesBarbarella, and Under the Tuscan Sun. A truly varied but important unrelated trilogy that defines my cinematic tastes to a tee.

Despite my incredible, flawless taste in movies I wish I could show my younger self, the most important new addition to the mix is Love, Simon. A surprising, heartbreaking and charming romantic comedy about one gay 17-year-old's journey to come out of the closet on his own terms.

Based on the novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the film stars Nick Robinson as the closeted Simon who - apart from struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality - seems to have one of those perfect high school lives. He has great friends, a picture-perfect family, and an endless supply of really great jackets.

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Simon's decision to live in the closet hits a snag when he begins anonymously emailing another gay student at his school. Both use throwaway email addresses to hide their true identities so Simon doesn't know who his mystery pen pal is, only that he goes by the name "Blue".

It's an unconventional "love story" made all the more difficult by both Simon and Blue not feeling like they're able to come out of the closet just yet.

And so begins Simon's journey of self-revelation, as well as the hunt for Blue's true identity. Simon does face a few struggles and the driving force of the film I won't go into so as to keep some plot points more mysterious and unspoiled, but this isn't your typical "coming out" movie, in fact -- despite the film dealing a lot with coming out -- it's a love story first and foremost.

The film is the perfect blend of Easy A's irreverence mixed in with the charm and outsider storytelling elements of Never Been Kissed. It sits neatly in the rom-com echelon and isn't your typical queer love story where the entire film is framed around the darkest aspects of coming out. 

The film is directed by Greg Berlanti, the man behind a great deal of DC's TV offerings including Supergirl, which has been celebrated for its depiction of one character's coming out during her evolution. Berlanti's work has also seen him producing shows like RiverdaleThe FlashLegends of Tomorrow, and Black Lightning, many of which have included proud LGBT+ characters throughout. 

The film is by no means perfect; there's a lot to be said for how Berlanti visualises queer bodies. Let's just say he has a "type". Simon's ability to pass as straight is somewhat typical of how Berlanti prefers to cast his leading gays as well as the fact that Robinson -- to our knowledge -- is a straight man playing gay.

The film is another recent example of heterosexual performers being cast in high-profile queer roles, a major criticism of Call Me By Your Name stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet. There's a friction between representation on screen and the amazing feeling of seeing LGBT+ stories getting such mainstream attention, and the odd resistance to cast queer actors to play those characters. 

But Robinson's Simon isn't the only version of queerness represented in the film though, as Berlanti brought Aussie actor Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Wally West on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, to star in the film. Lonsdale came out as bisexual in early 2017.

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Simon's struggles with his coming out are also neatly foiled with his classmate Ethan, played by Clark Moore. Ethan's unapologetic gayness, highlighted with the most incredible cutting comebacks you've ever heard onscreen, is an interesting one; he's a victim of bullying but never accepting of pity. Ethan's more androgynous and femme than Simon, he's a clearer target for the schoolyard homophobes.

There are moments in the film where I held my breath, reliving moments that were all too familiar in the early days of realising my sexuality, realising it meant I'd have to reveal myself to those I trusted most and that gamble you take when you work up the courage to say "this is who I truly am". 

Jennifer Garner plays Simon's mother Emily with the softness and kindness you could only expect from a movie mum. At one point in the film, Garner gives a speech that packed such a wallop I felt like I could have silently cried for days. It's up there with Michael Stuhlbarg's monologue at the end of Call Me By Your Name.

I laughed, I cried (both too often and too loudly), but most of all I wished my younger self could have been sitting next to me so I could have said, "See? We can have cheesy romcoms too".

Love, Simon isn't groundbreaking because it's telling a new or shocking story, but it is a gorgeous film for anyone -- young or old, out or closeted, gay or straight -- to enjoy a new take on a love story. One that just so happens to be gloriously and proudly gay.

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