When Love, Simon opened in cinemas last spring, it was the first wide release for a teen romance featuring a gay lead character. And this was from a major studio like Fox. That seems more than a little shocking, really, in 2018. But the studios finally may be catching up after independent hits like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name earned solid box office, critical acclaim and Oscars.
“People are used to seeing two guys kiss on their TV set and in their art-house cinema,” says Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti. “But it’s not really been in their local multiplex and treated as just any other thing.” Now available on DVD and VOD, the film follows a 17-year-old who is keeping his homosexuality a secret as he corresponds by email with an anonymous admirer. Then he’s blackmailed into coming out publicly.
Berlanti made his directing debut in 2000 with the now-classic gay rom-com The Broken Hearts Club and currently runs hit shows like Arrow and Supergirl, both of which feature matter-of-fact queer characters. With Love, Simon, Berlanti wanted to make a John Hughes-style teen comedy, something audiences of all ages would have no difficulty relating to. He believes everyone needs to have someone who tells them “I love you” and “You deserve to be loved”, especially those who are coming out.
He also feels that mainstream audiences need these stories, not just urban art-film lovers. “Obviously, I definitely made it with the kids in mind, the ones who don’t grow up in huge cities,” Berlanti says. “I grew up in a time when there was no awareness of who was gay. There was no sense of community. No online world. I felt really alone and disconnected. Even though the world is more connected and we’re aware of each other, I think it’s still very easy for kids to feel alone. So hopefully this makes them laugh and have fun, and also makes them feel connected to other people.”
Berlanti has enjoyed the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film from audiences. But his biggest surprise was showing it to his father. “I hadn’t imagined the film being seen by the parent of a gay child,” he says. “I imagined it from the gay kid’s perspective. But it gave my dad so much more, to talk to me about aspects of my high school, to the point where I was like, ‘Stop asking questions!’”
In the title role, 23-year-old actor Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) felt that Berlanti was exactly the right person to make this movie. “Greg is a gay man, and he had his personal story, so I think it was a labor of love,” he says. “You could talk to him about anything. He had gone through this experience of coming out and being closeted in high school. He’d seen all the repercussions of that: what happens to a person when they’re not really living their truth, and they’re not being fully actualised.”
He also understood the importance of the project. “The concept of representation is really important,” Robinson says. “Just to see either people you identify with or stories you identify with represented onscreen is a powerful thing. That’s not to say that this movie is representative of every LGBTQ experience, but it’s a start. Right now we have, unfortunately, a lot of hateful speech going on. Our job as artists is to offer counter-programming to that, to bring out as much of a message of positivity and inclusiveness as we can. It’s the right thing to do.”
Love Simon: Review by Jack Cline
This fresh take on the teen romantic comedy genre takes the gay lead character’s homosexuality in stride. It’s there, but it’s not the main point of the film, which makes this mainstream studio movie more than a little groundbreaking. Credit goes to director Greg Berlanti, who tells the story with continual clever touches that create a sunny, funny, energetic atmosphere (and yes, it has a happy ending).
Nick Robinson stars as Simon, a 17-year-old who hasn’t admitted to anyone that he’s gay, including his best pals (hot rising-star actors Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr). Then he opens up about his homosexuality to an anonymous email pen pal. But an annoying theatre nerd (Logan Miller) learns the secret and blackmails him into coming out.
The film is strikingly well-played, with particularly strong moments for Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. And while there’s a distinct sense that this film should have been made 20 years ago, it’s still an engaging, entertaining and, yes, emotionally moving story about a young man learning to be himself. Watch it with your parents.