I walked past the Savoy Cinema after work yesterday evening. As I do every evening. I saw a poster for the film ‘Love, Simon’ on the billboard display outside the building, and noticed that the film was about to start. Without thinking I ducked inside and bought a ticket. I was slightly embarrassed you see. Why, oh why would a middle aged man – in fine fettle granted but moving away from forty nonetheless – be going to see a romantic comedy about teenagers. Well let me explain.
The film concerns one Simon Spier – a seventeen year old high school student in Atlanta, Georgia. He is in his graduation year. On his school’s website an anonymous closeted student called Blue declares that he is gay. So Simon starts communicating via email with him using the pseudonym Jacques. Neither boy reveals his real identity to the other. Slowly – as so often happens in high school films – they start to fall in love via email.
Meanwhile Simon leaves his email account open on the school library computer. A creature named Martin discovers the emails, and starts to blackmail Simon – unless Simon sets Martin up with his friend Abby, then his secret will be revealed to the school. The mystery as to who Blue’s identity is, deepens. Simon tries to uncover it through clues left in the email correspondence. All roads lead nowhere. After Abby rejects Martin in a most embarrassingly public way, Simon is outed to the entire school. Blue, terrified of the reaction, pulls away from Simon.
Until the end of the film, after the performance the annual high school musical ‘Cabaret’ Simon declares on the school gossip side that he will be on the merry go round at the funfair and that he hopes Blue will join him…
Now on an objective level this is your standard teen romance film. Cheesy, corny, syrupy, absurd. To a weather-beaten homo like myself it was a lot more. It was the film I never saw as a baby gay.
Teen romance is a film genre that stretches back to the 1950s with the James Dean films. Back in the 1980s, John Hughes built a career on tales of love-lorn teenage misfits. All were absolutely straight. In ‘Teenwolf’ starring my childhood idol Michael J. Fox, when he comes out as a werewolf to his best high school buddy, the response was ‘Well at least you’re not a fag’. In one of my all-time favourite films Heathers, to humiliate the high school bullies while they murder them, Veronica and JD make their murders look like a gay suicide pact – just to accentuate the humiliation. Being gay was not a good thing. In film or in life. When you came out – even in the 1990s when I did it – it was a terrifying ordeal – fear of rejection and ridicule (at best) or something far worse was a genuine fear. Luckily these fears were not realised very often but judging by information available to you, it was a risk, that you had to take.
‘Love, Simon’ was very different. While main star had a slight fear of coming out, he had no moral hang-ups about it – when his sister suggests he deny being gay his reply is simple ‘Why would I, I’ve not ashamed of it.’ . His friends are supportive – his best friend replies to the news by saying ‘I love you’ rather than ‘I STILL love you.’. His parents accept him for himself in that schmaltzy American Mom and Dad way ‘We love you son and we are so proud of you’. By rights this should all have had me cringing in mortification – cynicism being a slight personal affliction. In actual fact the film had me quite emotional. It was far from such mush, that I came out back in the day. But I just found it so lovely and positive.
And as is entirely predictable with teen romance films, the girl always gets the guy in the end. In this film the guy gets the guy. As they lean in towards each other for their first kiss, just before the credits begin to roll, I swear someone in the audience started peeling onions. It is really cool that a film like this exists for 2018 teenagers. Although not just for them – as the lights came up I scanned the room. The audience was about 50% young adult. The other half seemed to be men and women of my age and older, all out for an evening to see the film that they missed during their own adolescence all those years ago.
‘Love, Simon’ – leave your middle-aged cynicism to one side – this is a joyous film.