This story contains spoilers for Love, Simon.
In the very first moments of Love, Simon, we're let in on protagonist Simon Spier's (Nick Robinson) big secret: he's gay.
At this point though, he hasn't told anyone. Not his insanely attractive parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel); not his would be Cordon-Bleu chef little sister; and not even his three best friends with whom he apparently consumes enough iced coffee to drown a small nation.
Based on Becky Albertalli's best-selling 2015 novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and directed by Riverdale producer Greg Berlanti, Love, Simon is a coming-of-age romantic comedy. It's John Hughes for the 13 Reasons Why generation, groundbreaking because it's such a recognizable, even ordinary, genre. Finally, the story of a teen struggling to come out to those around him has become mainstream enough to warrant a movie from 20th Century Fox.
The film's release on March 16 in 2,400 theaters across the country will mark the first major wide-release of a gay teen love story by a major studio. (For comparison Call Me By Your Name, nominated for four Academy Awards this year, was initially released in two cities only, and reached 815 theaters at its peak.) For that reason, the way Love, Simon handles Simon's coming out is worth discussing.
The first aspect that stands out is the reason for Simon's silence up until this point: It's not that he's afraid of being ostracized, or shamed. He's just a high school kid on the verge of graduation who wants to keep feeling like he belongs to that world for just a little longer.
The other aspect is that, as an audience, we've been trained to expect one big resolution to a narrative tension: Simon is hiding the fact that he's gay, therefore he must come out in an explosive way. But the thing is, there isn't just one coming out scene in this movie. There are seven.
The first time Simon acknowledges his sexual preference to another person is in an email to Blue, a student who has posted an anonymous confession on the school gossip blog about being gay. (Eventually, the two strike up a correspondence that leads to the core love story.)
The second is inadvertent: Simon is using the library computer to check an email from Blue (big mistake; huge), and forgets to log out. A fellow classmate, Martin (Logan Miller), finds the emails and decides to use them to blackmail Simon into getting him a date with his friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp).
The first face-to-face coming out happens when Simon actually tells Abby one night as they drive home together. She reacts as you would want a friend to react, with warmth, and a hug. She still doesn't want to date Martin though, despite Simon's various manipulations, which leads to the fourth way that people find out about Simon's sexuality: he's outed.
Angry at Simon for not holding up his end of the bargain, Martin leaks the Blue emails on the school gossip blog, referring to Simon by name. This prompts Simon to finally come out to his parents, who react on a spectrum of acceptance. His mom, a therapist, sits him down for a thoughtful and moving parental speech that would have brought entire theaters to tears had Michael Stuhlbarg not done the same just months earlier in Call Me By Your Name. His dad, on the other hand, struggles to come to terms with the fact that the idea that he had of who his son really is might not square with reality. It takes him a little longer, but he eventually gets there.
Out to everyone he knows for the first time in his life, the last major gesture in Simon's journey comes during a cafeteria confrontation with some jocks who have immediately jumped to the conclusion Simon must be dating Ethan (Clark Moore) because the two are openly gay. It's a major moment because it's the first time Simon openly refers to himself as a gay in front of everyone. That secret that plagued him at the beginning of the film is out.
In the end though, the final coming out doesn't belong to Simon, but to Blue. I won't reveal his identity here (although if you're reading this without having seen the movie, you're just asking for spoilers!) but let's just say that Simon organizes a grand gesture and Blue shows up. They kiss, and the "rom" part of the rom com is sealed.
So, why does this matter? Too often, gay characters in film are shown coming out to one person, and we assume that everyone else just figures it out by osmosis. But in reality, coming out is a process that can take many forms. In other words, there are many ways to do it, and many people to come out to. You won't come out to your mom the same way you do to your friend. Some people will live for years keeping their sexual orientation secret from certain people in their lives while being out to others. None of those options are wrong. What Love, Simon manages to do by depicting multiple stages of coming is to show how difficult it is, even in 2018, without otherizing the experience.
And to have that message be seen by teens all over the country is nothing short of radical.
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