"I'm just like you, except I have one huge ass secret... Nobody knows I'm gay." So says the titular protagonist of the queer-oriented teen romance dramedy Love, Simon. Adapted from Becky Albertalli's popular Young Adult novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, this film revolves around 17-year-old Simon Spier, who from all outward appearances seems like a cookie-cutter otherwise nondescript boy next door. Like many kids his age, Simon has to figure out how to balance school, his social life, and his family relationships. Unlike most of his peers, however, Simon also struggles with maintaining the fact that he is gay a secret from everyone he knows.
Simon Spier feels utterly relatable to anyone who has had to come out of the proverbial closet. It's hard not to empathize with him, especially when so many of us know what it's like to feel that you can't share your true self with anyone else. One of the many interesting facets of Simon's story is that it manages to capture countless nuances to paint a near-tangible picture of what it's like to struggle with coming out. It encapsulates how lonely it can be to feel other, especially when you feel forced to be the only one who knows that you're different.
Fortunately, Simon doesn't have to hold onto his secret for long. Shortly after we meet him, he discovers that a classmate of his has revealed to the school, via the wonders of the internet, that they are gay. This mysterious gay stranger signs their proclamation "Blue," drops the mic, and Simon's story suddenly alters course. We see him as he discovers that may not be so other, after all. We bear witness to the moment that Simon Spier discovers the hope that he doesn't have to feel alone anymore, and the moment is truly touching. He reaches out to the one person whom he feels might truly understand, and thus begins the intersecting of his path with Blue's. Predictably, Simon's journey down this new path isn't always a smooth one, and Love, Simon becomes a much more interesting not-so-cookie-cutter or otherwise nondescript narrative.
And therein lies the beauty of this film. While a story about a teen falling in love and facing backlash along the way might seem familiar (especially to those of us who grew up watching John Hughes 80s classics), it's important to note that this story kicks the visibility and representation of queer characters up a notch. We're not just sidekicks or background characters anymore. This time, we're front and center of the mainstream adolescent romance-dramedy. And while the inclusion of people of color is also worthy of some praise, as these characters all stand out as additional heroes in the story, one of the film's few (but significant) faults is that these characters are still relegated to secondary roles. Granted, the source material was written this way, but if we're going to retell fiction in 2018, there really is no good excuse to overlook an opportunity to make inclusion intersectional. Individuals that don't identify as male or gay might not feel very well-represented in Love, Simon either.
Beyond its blemishes, Love, Simon really does seem to just "get it," though. The film does an incredible job of capturing some of those incredibly awkward and uncomfortable microaggression-laden moments that anyone who has had the wrong things assumed about their identity is all too familiar with. Whether it's someone making the odd "ladies' man" joke or an off-the-cuff remark from a friend about how she "totally understands what you're going through," even though, "I mean, I'm not gay or anything, but..." At its most complex and intimate, Love, Simon is able to demonstrate the sordid details of coming out—to yourself, to your friends, to your family, to your community—so convincingly that you might find yourself asking where the hidden cameras were and how you can get the rights to your personal details back.
More specifically, Simon's story is painfully accurate about the pressure so many of us face to hide our true selves from those we love, even for those of us that do come from supportive families and open-minded communities. He even acknowledges at one point that he cannot identify why he's afraid to come out, as he finds himself in a generally understanding and loving environment. However, in his vulnerability, Simon can't shake the fear of what could possibly go wrong, and we begin to see the house of cards he builds as he tries to protect his secret. Love, Simon triumphs again as it provides a poignantly painful understanding of some of the things we sometimes feel we need to do—the difficult choices we make, the words and thoughts we conceal, or even the lies we tell—in an effort to protect ourselves from letting anyone know who we really are or how we really feel, when we live in a world that we believe will punish us for it. It paints the portrait of things our cis het friends don't have to even consider much less worry about and hangs it up at the center of the gallery. And for that reason, this film is a brilliant addition to the growing library of stories just like ours.
Love, Simon is a heartfelt queer-oriented young adult drama that highlights the often-overlooked or misunderstood aspects of coming out, making us laugh and providing a positive and validating experience along the way. Though the film isn't perfect, it isn't far from it, and it puts forth a heroic effort in demonstrating why you should love it anyway.
Love, Simon is in theaters now. Check local listings for showtimes.