Love, Simon Conforms to Rom Com Conventions


By Ryan Di Corpo

A brief perusal through the history of LGBT cinema, particularly within in the United States, would likely reveal landmark titles such as The Boys in the Band, Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain. More recently, we have seen a slate of boundary-pushing and challenging LGBT films both domestically and abroad, including BPM (Beats per minute), Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name.

Despite the narrative diversity of the aforementioned titles, all of these films share a similar trait: the mark of tragedy. In a 2010 article for The Guardian, writer Dee Rudebeck asks: “Why aren’t there more feelgood gay films?”

It seems that Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger asked themselves the same question while writing the screenplay for Love, Simon, a new gay teen romantic comedy released in the U.S. on March 16.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox, Love, Simon is an adaptation of the young adult fiction novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli. The film, prior to its release, was met with effusive interest and high enthusiasm as the film is “the first mainstream studio romantic comedy told from the perspective of a gay teen,” according to Variety.

The basic plot of the film concerns Simon (Nick Robinson), a closeted gay high school student who, in the film’s opening minutes, tries to make the case that he is “just like you.”

He has a core group of friends with whom he carpools to school in the morning while they drink large iced coffees. He has a liberal family with a nice younger sister, an ex-high school football quarterback father and an ex-high school valedictorian mother who also happens to be Jennifer Garner.

After learning of the existence of another closeted gay teen at his school, Simon begins an anonymous correspondence with his new mystery friend. Once Simon’s messages are discovered by the conniving, socially absurd Martin, Simon is blackmailed into helping Martin to date one of Simon’s friends. This plan fails, however, and Martin outs Simon online, leading to teen rom com drama par excellence.

But never fear — everything does work out in the end, except for Martin. There’s even a carnival scene.

Reviews for the film have been mainly positive, even excessively so. Benjamin Lee of The Guardian hails the film as “a landmark teen classic.” Colin Covert of The Star Tribune labels it “a coming-of-age charmer of the highest order.” And echoing Lee’s sentiment, Molly Freeman of Screen Rant describes the film as “a modern classic for today’s generation.”

Now let’s breathe for a moment.

I like Love, Simon. It is a good movie which has achieved a rather lofty position in film history. Yet, it is important to not allow the importance of the film to cloud one’s judgement of its overall quality.

There can be no doubt that cinema is long overdue for positive, non-tragic portrayals of LGBT persons and relationships. Actress Alexandra Shipp stated her belief that Love, Simon is “going to save lives and create allies.” Let’s hope so.

However, it is necessary that films which seek to portray LGBT experience in a positive manner do not simply fly into utopia in the last 10 to 15 minutes.

Despite the tragedy of films like Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name, they present a certain realism which both represents and respects the possible lived experiences of actual persons. While Love, Simon certainly respects it title character, it pushes his life into a fantasy realm that does not reflect the reality of many LGBT persons’ lives.

Simon’s parents are open-minded, politically progressive and ultimately accepting of their son’s sexuality. Simon’s friends, despite being used and hurt by him, all reconcile with him and resume their idyllic carpool. Simon meets his closeted gay mystery friend, whom Simon has fallen in love with, and they are perfect for each other. They have flirty banter and kiss on a Ferris wheel.

Now, these events could happen, and Simon’s life is certainly not bereft of real struggle. Yet the conclusion of the film seems to place greater emphasis on a bright, cinematic love-crescendo than on the enduring difficulties which Simon no doubt will face.

I will admit I harbor a general aversion to the conventions of the romantic comedy genre, conventions which tend to eschew provocative portrayals of human struggle to instead gorge them with snappy dialogue and saccharine perfection to the point of artistic nausea.

Love, Simon does not go that far, and for that it has escaped the wrath I reserve for films like, and I do apologize, Love, Actually. However, it is the film’s committal to the conventions of a Hollywood romantic comedy which ultimately rob Love, Simon of a greater maturity which I believe would not alienate its audience.

Love, Simon is notable as the first mainstream studio film concerning a gay teenage central character. (Courtesy of AP).