Glass reviews … groundbreaking gay teen rom-com Love, Simon

AS A gay man with a long-running obsession with the movies, I have learned over the years, like so many others, to mentally insert myself into cinematic scenarios that don’t quite fit my mould. You see, placing oneself into the centre of an unmistakeably Hollywood situation is an essential part of what keeps us coming back to continually clichéd rom-com’s, action-packed superhero movies and anything which could be described as box-office fodder.

Nick Robinson in Love, Simon, photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

To be clear, I’m talking big-budget studio movies here — all arthouse indies, you may be excused from this conversation. But when you aren’t able to see yourself represented on screen, the immense value of which is only just beginning to be truly realised, it leaves entire swathes of the population trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

But please don’t mistake this for a pretentious diss of big-budget studio vehicles, which count amongst themselves the kind of summer blockbuster’s which breaks records and keep major studio conglomerates such as The Walt Disney Company, 21th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group in positions of totalitarian control. On the contrary, this is a celebration of a major motion picture, produced and financed by one of the most unabashedly mainstream movie studios going, 20th Century Fox.

Nick Robinson and Katherine Langford in Love, Simon.
Photograph: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Setting aside the obvious reasons to have faith in a project aided by the golden touch of TV production God Greg Berlanti, who directed the film, I still find it genuinely remarkable that such a mainstream studio would greenlight a movie with a gay teenager as the central character. Based on the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon sees 17-year-old Simon Spier, portrayed by Nick Robinson of Jurassic World fame, navigate his journey to coming out as gay, whilst falling in love via email with an anonymous classmate who shares his same secret.

Joined by a supporting cast of up-and-comers, including Katherine Langford and Miles Heizer from Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why, Robinson is entrancing in the title role. Rather brilliantly, he approaches Spier as any other male 17-year-old character. There are no camp affectations or stereotypically “gay” mannerisms in place. His voice remains at a steady, deep pitch, and his clothes are nondescript to the point of blending into his surroundings. For some, this has stirred dissent — a straight actor playing a gay character in the most straight-presenting way possible — but there is a strength to this decision.

Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp and Katherine Langford in Love, Simon.
Photograph: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Much of the film’s criticism (of which, thankfully, there is little) has stemmed from Simon’s heteronormative outward appearance. But to dress him up as the stereotypical “gay teen male” character seen in similar films of recent memory (the purposes of which have always been to provide comic relief, fairly often at their expense) would have totally defeated the point of a movie designed to slot in comfortably next to any other teen rom-com.

Love, Simon made me nostalgic for the great love story I so desperately wanted and was never able to realise in my formative years, and although I found my heart breaking a little with every passing scene of Simon’s continued dejection, even the tiniest shred of truthfulness moment-to-moment would resonate deeply with me.

Nick Robinson, Talitha Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel in Love, Simon.
Photograph: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Jennifer Garner’s stand-out scene, a tiny snippet of which can be seen in the trailer, struck me the very most, and I’d wager I’m not the only one. As is the case with most mainstream movies, it glamorises and glosses over a lot of what the real teenage experience actually is, and thank goodness it does — one of the film’s great successes is to recognise when to conform, just as often as when not to.

As exercise-adverse as I am, I found myself walking a very long way in particularly bad weather in order to see this film on the day of its release, because Love, Simon is so much more than a mere movie. It represents a cultural milestone, a mark of acceptance and an embracing of the truths of so many teenage boys, in the past and the present, who have felt the crushing weight of the world on their shoulders as they carry their own personally branded burden of difference.

Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Nick Robinson in Love, Simon.
Photograph: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Even tucked away in my tiny little provincial corner of the UK, the local six-screen cinema has three daily showings of Love, Simon. It’s difficult to accurately put into words how this feels, but the effects of this are more than most will ever know, and they will continue to spread and grow and instil confidence in the minds and hearts of future generations of Simon Spiers. For mainstream cinema, the game has been undeniably changed for the better

by Thomas Marrington

Love, Simon is available in cinemas nationwide