Nick Robinson in Love, Simon
Love, Simon starring Nick Robinson, is our first major gay romcom (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

FILM

Love, Simon is long overdue. But we’re glad it’s finally here

This new gay romcom, out now, is just as good as we’d hoped, says Kate Leaver

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By Kate Leaver on

In 2012, Becky Albertalli gave birth to her first son. While he was still tiny enough to fit in her arms, she sat down, opened her laptop and wrote her first novel. She typed her 17-year-old protagonist, Simon Spier, into life in a book called Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon is earnest, handsome and likeable, with all the trappings of a lovely life: a handful of loyal friends, a sweet little sister, a car of his own, parents who clearly still adore each other and the sort of school-hall popularity that makes him immune to bullying. Only, Becky gave Simon a secret: he’s gay, and he hasn’t told anyone. She also gave him an anonymous online love interest, a guy known only as Blue. Simon falls for Blue one painfully candid email about sexuality and Oreos at a time, but Blue’s not ready to reveal his identity. Simon scans his school corridors madly, desperately trying to work out who has his heart. His search for Blue unravels with humility, heartache, tenderness and anguish. It ends on a Ferris wheel, where all good romantic comedies should.

By the time Albertalli’s eldest son could walk, his mother was a successful and celebrated YA author. By the time he was speaking full sentences and recounting his day, she was signing a movie deal for the adaptation of her much-loved book. Love, Simon is out in the UK now, directed by Greg Berlanti with a budget of $17m and an offensively attractive cast including Nick Robertson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel. These names and numbers matter, because this is a major Hollywood romcom – a sweet, tactfully told love story about gay teenagers made in an industry that has been notoriously cheque-shy about investing in anything outside the hetero norm. It is an important, long-overdue film. It is also funny, tender and gorgeous.  

Already, celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Matt Bomer are buying out cinemas across America so that as many people as possible can see this movie – a movie that didn’t exist when they were young, vulnerable and grappling with their own sexualities. As they so profoundly realise, this is a genuine victory for representation – and, might I say, the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time (I cried four times). It is a moving validation and celebration of homosexual love in a world where those relationships are still illegal in 72 countries. We have spent so many decades piecing together our concept of heterosexual love from the romcoms we watch: Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, Hugh Grant’s entire career. They are a deceptively important medium for exploring our priorities, our prejudices and our desires when it comes to love. So, it matters, it really matters, that we now have a teen romcom about gay love from a major studio being widely distributed.

Gender fluidity may exist, but so, too, does homophobia – and this movie may actually have the power to help erode that

And yet, journalist Daniel D’Addario wrote in Time magazine recently: “Love, Simon is a ground-breaking film, but do today’s teens actually need it?” He argues that the film is dated because today’s teenagers are so fluid about gender and sexuality already. As Becky Albertalli tells me with an endearing giggle: “The teens have answered that question for him. They have been answering it relentlessly for weeks.” She’s speaking, of course, about the deluge of online support from teenagers around the world who want D’Addario to know that they do very much need this movie. Gender fluidity may exist, but so, too, does homophobia – and this movie may actually have the power to help erode that. If it gives young people the courage to come out themselves – which it has – then it is worth its popcorn snacks in gold. Love, Simon, like the book it comes from, has its own enormous community of ardent young fans. Fans who feel seen and heard by this story. Fans who see themselves in Simon’s anguish and relief. Fans who now see Albertalli as somewhat of a saviour and a hero.

“I’m just a mother in the suburbs, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed since the movie came out, but my online life has,” Albertalli says. “Teens are just clamouring for my time on Twitter, with the most beautiful reactions to the movie. I’m not used to this volume of communication and I take my role as an author very seriously. I love my readers, I always have, but it’s hard. For some of these kids, my book helped them come out. Now, I’m getting people write to me to come out, because they wanted me to be the first to know. It is the greatest honour I can think of and it’s so special. These young people are so precious, but it is tricky to know how to handle it all.”

As long as teenagers are choosing to come out as gay to the author of a romcom before their own friends and family, it is clear that we needed this story. Love, Simon is the romcom LGBTQ+ kids need – and, done as beautifully as it has been, it’s also the one they deserve.

@kateileaver

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Love, Simon starring Nick Robinson, is our first major gay romcom (Photo: 20th Century Fox)
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