Sunday, April 1, 2018

Love, Simon: The Best Romcom of the Year

Yeah that's right, it's only April, but I'm calling it. Love, Simon is the best romantic comedy of 2018. Though perhaps it's difficult to call it a comedy, per se, as my friend Katie and I spent a significant time bawling in the theater while watching it. But they were happy tears, I swear.

Based on Becky Albertalli's novel, the movie tells the story of Simon Spier (breakout star in the making, Nick Robinson), a closeted gay high schooler. He has amazing parents (his parents are played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, who from here on out should play everyone's parents in every high school movie ever), an adorable sister, and a core group of friends that he has known for years. But despite this strong support structure, he has kept one thing hidden from everyone who knows him - the knowledge that he is gay. His excuses are myriad: why do gay teens have to come out when straight teens don't have to, what if everyone treats me differently, I'll wait until college to be out and proud, let me finish high school without anything changing. It's all incredibly understandable and funny and poignant, and for anyone who has ever had a gay friend in their life, it's a terrific insight into their mind at this challenging time of life.

The plot centers around a website that all the high schoolers use to share secrets. When an anonymous student named Blue posts that he is gay, Simon starts e-mailing him under the pseudonym Jacques, eager to connect with one other person who is going through the same experience as him. Unfortunately, someone discovers his emails and blackmails him with that information, threatening to out Simon to the whole school unless he helps the blackmailer get a date with one of Simon's friends, Abby. Naturally, a lot of teenage comedy and angst ensues.

This is a clever, funny, and towards the end, stupidly romantic movie, replete with a grand gesture and swoony moment. But of course, what makes it so unique is that it's about a gay teenager finding love instead of a straight couple. And isn't it about time? I love romantic comedies, but lately the genre has felt played out. Turns out, I still love a romantic comedy, I just needed more diversity in terms of who was falling in love. If this was a story about a straight couple, it would still probably be funny and charming, but it would completely lack any pathos and wouldn't tug at my heartstrings at all.

So what moments made me cry? SPOILER ALERT (seriously, don't read this paragraph till you've seen the movie). The moment when Simon comes out to one person and she responds simply with "I love you." The moment when his best friend is talking to him about how she often feels like an outsider when she's at parties and doesn't really feel like she belongs (yeah, teenage me had all the feels). Of course, the much talked about moment when his mother accepts his coming out in the most loving and wonderful fashion every portrayed on screen. And the less talked about moment but equally wonderful acceptance of his father, who is such a bro but woke enough to know that nothing has changed just because his son is gay.

Like all great teen comedies, this movie also has an epic soundtrack that may be partly responsible for all my feelings. Directed by Greg Berlanti, who is gay himself and has made his fair share of TV shows about teens, Love, Simon demonstrates a warm empathy and love of all of its central characters. It features a world in which coming out is difficult but not insurmountable. This is a world that is still aspirational for many teenagers, though the tide is slowly turning and making it more likely that parents and friends react with loving acceptance. With the introduction of this movie into the pop culture canon, I can only hope more closeted folk have the courage to either come out and stop living in fear, or at least take joy in seeing themselves portrayed positively on screen. This movie may be the first time a gay teen discovers that people could respond to their revelation with a simple, "OK, I love you." We always say it and we have to keep saying it, in more movies and more TV shows and more songs. Love is love is love.

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