How “Love, Simon” Betrays Itself

Posted by Mindy Gan & filed under Film.

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The following article contains spoilers for Love, Simon

You don’t need me to tell you that Love, Simon is an important movie. It is one of few films that feature an LGBTQ+ protagonist, and its current mainstream success and popularity speaks to the impact that it has had for LGBTQ+ people everywhere. There have already been stories circulating online of homophobic parents starting to understand their LGBT+ children after seeing the movie, and of people feeling comfortable enough to come out to their friends and family while watching. All of this speaks to Love, Simon’s positive influence on its audience.
But that isn’t to say that Love, Simon doesn’t have its faults. For all of its inclusivity and messages about the rights and respect that LGBTQ+ people deserve, there were some parts of Love, Simon that left a bitter taste in my mouth because they were so antithetical to the rest of the film.

There is a moment before the climax of the movie where Simon is outed as gay and then abandoned by all of his friends. Of course, the movie and its characters are progressive enough that his friends aren’t angry at Simon because he’s gay, but because he lied – under threat of being outed by Martin – in order to get Martin and Abby together. Out of Simon’s three friends, Abby is angry because he used her like “a piece of meat,” Nick is angry because Simon’s lies kept him and Abby apart, and Leah is angry because Simon thought that she liked Nick when in reality, she likes Simon. In a baffling line that I’m still trying to comprehend, Leah tells Simon he “set [her] up for heartbreak when [he] thought [she] was in love with Nick.”

In a traditional story arc, the “crisis” is what usually occurs before the climax of the narrative; it is the moment where the protagonist is at their lowest point, often alone and hopeless. Simon’s confrontation with his friends after being outed follows the motions of this narrative structure, but it feels like drama manufactured for the sake of deepening the “crisis.” Even worse, this paints Simon’s friends as unhelpful straight allies who completely disregard the severity of Simon’s outing and the realities of being gay. Love, Simon gives more weight to the straight characters’ anger over some lies and a misunderstanding than it does to the emotional wellbeing of a gay character, all for the purpose of artificial conflict.

In the end, it is Simon who apologizes to Leah for misunderstanding her. He also makes up with Abby and Nick without too much trouble or screen time. At best, the whole situation seems disingenuous and fake. At worst, it imparts the message that the feelings of gay people aren’t as important as those of their straight allies, and that someone being forced to lie out of fear of being outed doesn’t deserve sympathy. And even if Simon’s friends don’t “mind” him being gay, the fact that they abandoned him in his time of need speaks to their straight privilege. To top it all off, none of Simon’s friends are ever called out for this behaviour: after Simon and Leah’s reconciliation, the movie speeds into its climax without looking back.

Leah and Simon talk

Leah and Simon talk

Unfortunately, Love, Simon didn’t really stick the landing for me either. When Martin outs Simon, Simon gives this big speech about how coming out is something that each LGBTQ+ individual has the right to decide on their own. The circumstances, the timing, and the people involved in a coming out should be something that the LGBTQ+ person controls. But then Simon issues a message to his anonymous paramour, Blue, to come forward and reveal his identity at the end of the movie, which serves as Blue’s coming out as well as the film’s climax. At the eleventh hour, Blue shows up at the meeting place that Simon chose and comes out in front of all of the spectators. He and Simon kiss, and the film ends shortly after, on a sweet and upbeat note.

But I have my misgivings. Blue is shown throughout Love, Simon to be intensely private about his sexuality. He refuses to tell Simon who he is, and eventually cuts all contact when Simon is outed, for fear of being outed himself. Blue may have come out at the end, but the fact that he had to do it in a public space with an audience runs oppositional to the movie’s earlier message: if Simon deserves to decide on the details of his coming out then Blue does as well.

Simon waits for Blue to arrive as his friends watch on.

Simon waits for Blue to arrive as his friends watch on.

I can’t see Love, Simon’s ending as anything but a forced “romantic moment” for the climax of this romantic comedy film. The movie’s director, Greg Berlanti, has expressed that he wanted to stick to some of the conventions of a traditional romantic comedy while circumventing other aspects of it by making the lead character gay. But the traditional romantic climax of a straight story doesn’t really apply when you bring in the complications of coming out and being gay in a world that still accepts straight identities more easily than any others. Even though the ending was genuinely moving to see on the big screen, I couldn’t help but wonder what Blue was thinking at the time. Was he genuinely okay with going along with Simon’s setup? Or did he grin and bear it for Simon’s sake? The answer remains frustratingly unclear, leaving Love, Simon’s ending a bit barren.

As a whole, I appreciate the work that Love, Simon is doing. While its idealisation of certain aspects of being gay may alienate some people, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism every now and then. But the few missteps along the way feel particularly damning in Love, Simon’s case, especially when the movie is built on the philosophy of spreading positivity. It was in those moments that I felt a palpable sense of “Ah right, this was written by a straight person.” That’s not to say that straight people can’t write LGBTQ+ stories, but their privilege can often prevent them from writing ones that feel honest and genuine. But as it stands, Love, Simon’s presence as a mainstream romantic comedy movie that happens to be about a gay teenager is indispensable. I’m genuinely glad that it exists and that LGBTQ+ people are finally getting their foot in the door of representation.

So yes, go see Love, Simon. Go see it more than once and bring all your friends. Its success opens the door for other LGBTQ+ films and filmmakers, and they will surely succeed in areas that Love, Simon unfortunately fell short. And even when I critique Love, Simon, I do it from a place of love. I want LGBTQ+ movies to continuously improve, and the only way that can happen is if we as audiences point out their flaws and keep raising our expectations. As films like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and Love, Simon enter the cultural conversation, we can only hope that they inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

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