“I’m just like you,” the boyishly handsome and sweet-natured high school senior Simon Spier (Robinson) matter-of-factly announces at the outset of this groundbreaking, yet refreshingly ordinary movie about a young man learning to exhale after a lifetime of holding his breath. At first glance, Simon appears to be just another face in the millennial crowd, a seemingly average white-bread teenager in a John Hughes coming-of-age film (that is, one featuring kids of color) suffering the slings and arrows of an otherwise conventional adolescence. But this 17-year-old harbors a secret that distinguishes him from just about everyone else he knows: He’s gay. Although Simon comes from a loving family (with Garner and Duhamel playing his parents, who could ask for better genes?) and enjoys the company of a tight-knit group of supportive friends, he nevertheless can’t bring himself to acknowledge his sexual orientation to the world. Some unnamable yet powerful dread holds him back, one informing an anguish he experiences every day. As he wittily (and yet, almost sadly) observes in the film’s most astute sequence: Why don’t straight people have to come out, too?
There’s much about Love, Simon to pick apart. For starters, when an obnoxious drama geek acquaintance threatens to out the closeted Simon unless he sets the loser up with a female friend, it’s hard to fathom how this seemingly nice guy could so easily engage in hurtful lies and deceit simply out of sheer terror of the truth. Likewise, the bullying that Simon experiences once he’s viciously cyber-outed is unquestionably mean-spirited, but some viewers may dismissively perceive as sugar-coated given the more egregious consequences other LGBTQ kids regularly endure under similar circumstances. But if this deceptively simple movie is about anything – regardless of whether you identify as gay or straight or something else – it’s about how fear and shame can rot the soul. As some Elizabethan playwright once advised (albeit in a slightly different context), to thine own self be true.
Faults aside, there’s something truly revolutionary about this big-screen Romeo and Romeo romance, as Simon courts an anonymous closeted schoolmate he’s met online in the hope of one day meeting him. Like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan before them, Simon and Mr. Right finally meet, not atop the Empire State Building, but at the apex of a Ferris wheel in full view of a world they’ve kept at arm’s length all their lives. It’s a cliched happy ending, one you’ve seen countless times before, but never in this way. And for those young persons out there who identify with Simon, you can only happily imagine what it will mean for them to see such a thing in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Because when these two boys finally kiss for the first time, no doubt you’ll feel the Earth move, just a little.
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