Love, Simon Review – Queering the image

Film lurches between looking beautiful and pedestrian

Young queer lives can be so fuckin messy. You often only realise it later. You remember that loose mix of outcast kids that were about at school? The goths, nerds, emos and just general weirdos who generally just hung out with each other because they didn’t make up a large enough group in thei own circles. Yeah, that was me. You’d be surprised, or not, by how many of us has came out after leaving. As if our fragile presence was both supporting and constricting.

Back in sixth form, when I was still figuring myself out (I think it was maybe the summer after I left was the first time I told someone I was trans, a half-stranger at church summer camp, gay kid whose parents had been sending him figuring it was some conversion type place, my religion were all but gone at that point, there were a fancy dress cricket game that I didn’t know about and one of the girls lent me some of her clothes, apparently I was pretty convincing at eighteen, anyway it was like 2 in the morning in some tent together, we’re not in touch no more after I invited him to a London play which he didn’t turn up to and things felt awkward after, but I remember a lot of those two weeks.)

Anyway, in sixth form I came out as bi to some friends, and that news apparently got around somehow. Never really affected me too much. I think people had just assumed by that point, or the homophobic cracks had been going around for so long that reality had been disrupted in some way. My fault too, straight me played into the role enough to gain a casual level of ironic respect among the cool kids, so who’s to say.

Anyway, the point is that a while after I came out I got a text from a guy who had spent the past five years demanding that he were straight asking to meet up for coffee. I didn’t respond, he had been somewhat unkind in the past, the jokes fell harder from him and that queer solidarity hadn’t properly taken root. Moreover, I didn’t want him to think that it were a date date, I weren’t really into him. He’s married now, to a girl we both went to school with. You try not to judge, hope everyone figures out their own way of being.

That’s a whole lotta preamble there but it’s relevant cos Love, Simon really captures this messiness. (I realise the comma in the movie’s title makes that read weird but let’s just roll with it.) Like in the past year there’ve been a couple’a straight teen romances. In Peter Chelsom’s The Space Between Us the young love were complicated by the fact that one kid grew up illegally, and in secret, on Mars and would literally die if he ever travelled to Earth. Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything stars a young woman so allergic to everything that she will literally die if she leaves the fucking house.

And here Simon is a young kiddo who would just, you know, literally die if anyone found out that he were gay. Also realised in that last paragraph Nick Robinson were also the hearthrob in Everything, Everything. It’s weird to see which young stars actually pop. He’s talented, and I guess the softer, boy next door look is in right now. Like, back five years ago everyone had to be ripped, ain’t to say that bodies are getting more diverse by no means, but I wouldn’ta picked this guy out from Jurassic World, or maybe it’s just cos everything in that film is real bad.

The white suit is perfectly ill fitting

I mean, a huge part of me is like give queer roles to queer actors, I mean come on, it’s not hard. Ezra Miller is great and never got the chance to be leading man cutie. At least he’s the first gay superhero we get on the big screen so his irrepressible energy is being directed somewhere. It’s just that this role never existed seven years ago, he got to be Kevin instead. Though, to be fair, fucking win for the big man.

But whatever, it’s a chill heartfelt romance about the most relatable side of them straight passing gays. It ain’t made for the queerest audiences, it’s not loud or declamatory in the way that we imagine most queer cinema to be. It slots nicely into that established John Green but on film aesthetic that has dominated YA cinema for the past five years. I think it’s actually coming to the end of its run, something about the improbable production designs of the leads’ bedrooms. The growing anonymity of the needledrop soundtrack, although it’s preferable to the film bizarrely misplaced synth score.

These characters walk and talk and live like we’ve come to expect and it’s on its way out. Look at the recent performances of Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges and the slightly less huge, though amazingly talented, Alex Lawther. They’re painting a future for the style of teen characters that we’re going to be seeing, vulnerable and revelatory. The kids here all gotta be clouded up with a thick layers of ironic detachment.

Not to say that the supporting cast ain’t great; Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. all put in dope turns, you can just feel like they all paying into the feel of the thing. It just means much of the emotional clarity falls onto the adult actors, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as the parents get like one scene each and mostly nail the weird awkward steps towards being cool about the whole gay thing. Natasha Rothwell (of UCB and SNL and HBO’s Insecure) is amazing as a comic relief drama teacher who I suppose must exist in this sorta flick but manages to super own the part.

It’s only when the unrestrained emotion of the adult actors is reflected back to the by the children that the internal world of the piece feels whole. But we’ve all been some pretentious kid at some point, it those moments it feels real. All credit to screenwriters Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger and director Greg Berlanti for allowing so many of those moments to go not fully resolved. There’s always gonna be some unresolved tension there, and I admire their commitment to living in it.

It’s a solid work, and it’s using an established form to try and express something new before it fades away. Sure, I’m down.

Love, Simon is currently screening in UK cinemas.

I'm trying something new okay, more elegant
Images courtesy 20th Century Fox, photo credit Ben Rothstein

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