How 'Love, Simon' Became 2018's Breakout Teen Film
The first major studio teen film with an LGBTQ lead character has attracted an intense online fandom and opened to more US theatres than 'CMBYN' and 'Moonlight' combined.
'Love, Simon' image via BFI Flare: London LGBT Festival
This article contains basic plot spoilers for Love, Simon
Twitter can sometimes feel the most toxic place on the internet, but the corner occupied by the fandom for this spring’s gay high school romance Love, Simon is one of its purest.
There are sweet Love, Simon Spongebob memes and clips of the film’s most memorable moments; there are threads of cute scenes from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the devourable-in-a-day YA book the movie is based on. Fans have added the "Love," prefix to their display name, and the film’s director and book’s writer have followed suit.
For the past year, Ellie Vengala – a bisexual 18-year-old from the Bay Area – has been co-running @lovesimonfilm, a Twitter account which shares rolling updates on the movie with fans. "I think we all have this secret agreement to see each other as friends because we relate to Simon somehow," Ellie says of the online community. "At least, the queer teens can."
Love, Simon – which previewed at BFI Flare: London LGBT Festival, and opens in UK cinemas on the 6th of April – is about a closeted high school kid, Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), falling for an anonymous pen-pal known as "Blue", and ultimately shows his relatively frictionless coming out. Everything in the movie is given an eye-pleasing Hollywood sheen; there is not a pimple to be found on the faces of Simon’s fellow high school students, or a speck of trash on the sidewalk. It’s the first major studio teen movie to have a central LGBTQ character – and, in its gentle and heartwarming way, is a landmark for gay representation.
Teen movies can be a tough sell, as can LGBTQ-themed movies. But the film's studio, 20th Century Fox, clearly have faith in Love, Simon’s broad appeal – perhaps helped by its groundswell of internet support. In the US this March, Love, Simon opened in a whopping 2,400 cinemas. That's more screens than Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight reached combined. The movie's wide release also comfortably outstrips the 1,945 theatres reached by Edge of Seventeen, the best (straight) teen flick of recent years.
"I've seen Love, Simon eight times," says Nick, a 19-year-old gay man from Florida. "I hate that being gay means you’re different. I think this film is a small step to defeat this barrier – to make being gay an everyday thing, not an uncomfortable topic."
For Trey, a gay 18-year-old fan from Dallas, Love, Simon is special for its positive flip on the coming out story. "When I came out, everyone turned against me," he says. "They told me I was different and a monster. But getting to see Simon come out and still be treated the same was amazing. I hope Love, Simon inspires kids to know that they aren’t alone, and that being LGBTQ is becoming more of an acceptable thing in society. I hope it gives them hope to a brighter future where they can be themselves without fear or regret."
From the start of Love, Simon, audiences are invited to empathise with the titular character: through his relatable passions for texting and iced coffee, sure, but most directly in his monologues.
"I'm just like you," Simon says in the opening moments of the film, meaning that he is "normal", even though he's gay. But he’s also a rich, white, cis, slim and masculine guy: qualities which make him unusually privileged in both the straight and gay worlds.
"It's honestly a fairytale," says Rebekah, a non-binary 18-year-old from Chicago. "And it's not relatable to a large percent of the community. In real life, gay people are disowned, sexually assaulted and even killed for being who they are. I know that the movie was meant to give people hope, but the peaches and cream narrative just doesn't cut it."
Simon isn’t quite a perfect role model for LGBTQ youth. As the writer Jacob Tobia observed in a New York Times op-ed, Simon’s masculinity is fragile: he distances himself from a flamboyant, out student named Ethan, and dismisses a reverie about his own future as a diva-loving university student with the words, "Well… not that gay." For queer viewers who didn’t have the privilege of growing up as straight-passing, it can feel hurtful to see effeminacy as the butt of the joke.
I don’t think that means that Love, Simon should be dismissed outright. The film is a beacon of hope for many queer teens – and, given the fact it has already recouped its $17 million (£12 million) budget, there’s clearly a huge mainstream appetite for LGBTQ narratives that speak to young adults. But it is worth remembering that Love, Simon only tells one specific kind of teen story, and that we must advocate for more films focusing on nancy boys, fierce divas, butch lesbians, trans people and queer people of colour. In other words: watch Love, Simon this spring, but also support indie movies like A Fantastic Woman and The Wound.
"Of course Love, Simon is a glossed-over version of what being closeted is really like," says Ryan Schocket, a 24-year-old writer who lives in New Jersey. "But I still think it is an incredible, important film, one I wish I had growing up."
After seeing the movie by himself this March, Ryan was inspired to come out to his mum. "When I shared my experience in my tweets, I had people reaching out to me saying they too wanted to tell their parents," he says. "I think the impact it will have down the road will be huge. We deserve love stories and breakup stories, big moments and soundtracks, and everything that everyone else grew up seeing onscreen. LGBTQ people are too fucking great to be in supporting roles."