So it’s my day off from the bookstore, and I knew I was going to reserve some time for writing today. What I wasn’t sure of, until I sat down, is what I was going to write about. After all, today is the day of the #WalkOut, it’s Pi Day, Hawking died, and then there’s the din of the perpetual horror machine that is contemporary American politics. Plenty of people are talking about all of those things, though, and I thought I’d stick my neck out a bit and talk a bit about something a bit different.
So let’s talk about Love, Simon. This film’s coming out Friday, or maybe tomorrow night if you’re lucky enough to be in a city that has an early release. The movie is put out by 20th Century Fox, and when I say that I mean 20th Century Fox–not one of their smaller art house subsidiaries. We’ll get to why that’s important in a minute. It’s a romantic comedy with more than just a nod to John Hughes in its feel and aesthetic. It has a diverse cast, and some major names attached. In short, it’s a typical Hollywood date movie that usually fills the months of March and April, while the movie industry holds its breath waiting for the big tentpole action films to run riot over the summer and fall.
Love, Simon is a love story that seems almost nostalgic in its depiction of high school relationships, imbued with a Technicolor light that renders the hope underscoring the characters infectious. That hope, that yearning, is palpable despite–perhaps because of–the comedy of horrors and errors that Simon and his friends endure. It’s the hope all of us have–that we will find a place for ourselves, if we expose our truest, most innermost selves to those we care for. That home can be whatever and wherever the people we love are, and that there is somebody out there for all of us, waiting to be found.
So Simon’s gay. I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention that. He doesn’t either, not at first. In fact, the entire film is only half a love story in the traditional sense. The other half is very much Simon Spier coming to love himself enough that he becomes invested in his own happiness. Now for some spoilers: no one dies, and no one contracts an incurable disease. This is a rom-com, remember? I point this out because outside of some art house flicks over the past few years, most of the LGBTQ films put out by the smaller arms of the major studios over the past years have always ended that way. There are no genuine happy endings, just a flutter of hopeful moments before the inevitable tragic denouement.
Based on Becky Albertalli‘s teen novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon is a movie behind its time–and that’s not its fault. The book itself–and its sequels Upside of Unrequited and Leah on the Offbeat–are heartfelt, relevant explorations of those crucial teen years for LGBTQ youth and their friends and allies. But even in 2016, when the first book first appeared on the scene, a movie based on it seemed a bit behind the times. Not because the book doesn’t feel “of the now”, because it certainly does, but because honestly a movie like this should’ve been made 10 years ago. Hell, 20 years ago if people in Hollywood would’ve seen where the culture was heading with a bit more chutzpah. But Greg Berlanti (yes, that Greg Berlanti) saw something in those pages he was willing to take a chance on, and here we are.
It’s 2018, and the world is about to get the first LGBTQ romcom about a same-sex romance from any major studio. ANY. It’s insane to me that’s true, but there you have it. 20th Century Fox, of all places, has decided America–and the world!–is ready for this, regardless of fear of sales in international markets that might not be open to such a story. That’s the common excuse by major studios who refuse to allow LGBTQ characters to even exist in their larger franchises, much less have storylines that highlight that particular aspect of their character. This is a smaller film than Spider-Man or Marvel’s Avengers, but one with the capacity for greater impact.
This film can save and transform lives, and families, and friendships, but it’s going to need your help to do it. So here we come to why I wrote this post. As it stands, the movie is supposed to make $15-18 million this weekend, based on current industry projections. It’s budget was $17 million. I’m sure you can see what I’m getting at here. To have more movies like this, more movies exploring all aspects of the LGBTQ experience in a mainstream, easily accessed format for teens and young adults this movie needs to do well, not just meh. It needs to surprise, shock and awe hollywood and its establishment with just how well it does, how much we and our allies support them taking a chance on actually showing our stories in the limelight.
I can’t actually imagine what a story like this just existing when I was a teen would’ve meant to me, let alone actually getting to see it in a film. I grew up in a very white, wealthy upstate New York town, known to many as an art town, but that’s not what it felt like as a teen. It felt…stultifying. Filled with so many secrets that I was amazed anyone could look anyone else in the eye. One of those secrets was my own orientation, and it took years to figure out what that was and what it meant to live openly and authentically. In the meanwhile, I put on a very brave face and soldiered on, despite the bullying and confusion, despite the self-hatred I was taught and my determination to escape. It amazes me how many kids just 30 years later don’t have to worry about that. In many ways, it’s a different world. The last few generations have made so many leaps forward in acceptance and inclusion. Kids come out young and in many places, people shrug and simply just accept it as no big deal.
But here’s the thing that probably anyone not LGBTQ doesn’t get: it’s always a big deal. In many ways, life is a perpetual state of coming out–to ourselves, and to the world around us. And not just that first time, but every single time you come out. Your first friend, your first extended family, your first workplace–and every person or situation you find yourself in for the rest of your life. How are people going to react? It’s always a choice you have to weigh with every single person you interact with. It keeps loved ones from holding hands in public is a default, or risking a kiss goodbye or hello. It keeps people using gender neutral pronouns to cover up the identities of their partners, it keeps us from having the courage to simply be 100% ourselves in the public sphere. Think about that for a second, if you could. It requires courage just to hold hands, to do more than a one-armed bro hug hello, to say your partner or spouse’s name. Yes, it gets better, but. They always forget the but. Not every place is safe, not every mind and situation is accepting. Our media tells us this story, too. How many of the stories they tell of us feature tragedy, illness, bashing, or death?
This movie, for all that it is most certainly light-hearted, is an opportunity to tell hollywood–and the people you know–that we can have these types of stories, too. That we can have stories that celebrate us, stories that show us fighting not just battles of social justice but fighting the doubt and self-hatred that so often grows inside us and actually winning. We can have romcoms and spy stories, fantasies and superhero movies. We can have these films and not have them be gay movies, but just movies. Movies who happen to feature people that look and act like us, just like the overwhelming majority of leads depicted as straight without having to be so to the exclusion of all else. We can have stories that are for us, not just about us.
Every single kid, tween, and teen who sees this movie is going to know there are people who support them, who will love them, and that the required courage is worth the risk. If they invite you to see Love, Simon, they’re already halfway there. How many conversations will happen this weekend–and into the future–because this film gave people a window to understand themselves and each other?
Will you join me this weekend? Will you send that message to your son, or nephew, or your student, that you support not just them, but a culture that includes them and others like them? Don’t let Simon be the only one fighting the Homo Sapiens agenda.
Click the image below to get your tickets.