Love, Simon, the YA romantic comedy releasing this Friday, is the first of its kind.
From director Greg Berlanti, the power-producer known for CW hits such as The Flash and Riverdale, the movie is the first major studio release to feature a gay teen protagonist. Based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the adaptation follows closeted high schooler Sam Spier, who wrestles with the notion of coming out. The film also breaks new ground in being an LGBTQ story with an unabashed happy ending.
“All walks of life, all people — red states, blue states, wherever we’ve gone with the film — we’ve seen enthusiastic audience reaction, particularly to the happy ending,” Berlanti said at a recent press conference. “It has been really rewarding for me, personally, not just as the director, but as a gay person, to see audiences of all kinds applauding a gay kiss. It’s really powerful and something I’m not sure I ever expected to see in a film like this.”
Representation of the LGBTQ community has been in the spotlight with acclaim for films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, among others. What sets Love, Simon apart is its completely commercial intentions and an emphasis not on gay tragedy, but instead, gay triumph. All of these stories are important, and this is the first of its kind to give us something that could be described as John Green — but gay. If straight teen audiences get to have sappy romances projected up on the big screen, so do gay teen audiences.
The decision for Simon to come out involves grappling with his own inner turmoil as he exists in a world where his coming out story is met with the support of his friends and family. One scene in particular between Simon and his mom, played by Jennifer Garner, illustrates this.
“I think that was a very emotional day for everybody,” said Nick Robinson, who plays the titular Simon. “I think people weren’t actually expecting the kind of emotion that happened. It speaks to the fact that whether you’re gay or straight or whatever, hearing that speech of you are worthy, and you deserve love, and you can exhale. All those things are so powerful.”
The scene, an emotional watermark in the film, is already drawing comparisons to Michael Stuhlbarg’s powerful monologue in Call Me By Your Name. It might be derivative to compare the two, but it emphasizes a comforting, understanding parent to a gay or questioning son or daughter and what such positive representation could mean to young teens who may be questioning their own sexuality.
For Berlanti, making this film became filling a void he didn’t at first even realize was there. Watching cuts of regular scenes with the family, not even particularly emotional ones, brought him to tears. “It was just the simple power of representation,” he said. “It’s a power in of itself that I wasn’t even totally aware of.”
Keiynan Lonsdale, an Australian actor on The Flash who came out last year, also stars in the film and emphasized the importance of seeing yourself on screen. “For a lot of people, they’re feeling represented. For kids, especially, you can watch a movie which feels magical and larger than life, and you feel like that could be you. There’s no greater feeling than that.”