Learning to Exhale: A Review of ‘Love, Simon’

I experienced something while watching Love, Simon that has never before happened to me while watching a romantic comedy: the entire theater cheered during the big love confession/reunion/first kiss scene at the end of the film. Not a single person left that cinema without a smile on their face, and if that isn’t a compliment to the film, I don’t know what is. Love, Simon is, perhaps, the story of innocent young love that we so desperately need right now. If you are unaware of the premise of Love, Simon, it begins very meet-cute. Seventeen-year-old Simon (Nick Robinson) is a normal kid–good friends, loving family, wholesome hobbies–but with one secret: he’s gay. Simon doesn’t come out of the closet until he begins an anonymous e-mail correspondence with “Blue”, another closeted gay teen at his high school. While his relationship with Blue deepens, his emails are discovered by another kid at school named Martin, and Simon is blackmailed into helping Martin start a relationship with Simon’s good friend, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). Eventually, the lies that Simon tells–to prevent his emails with Blue from being leaked–backfire on him, and he is publicly outed to the school. After hurting his friends, and Blue, Simon learns that the only way to deal with high school is to be true to yourself.

It is the simple earnestness of the film’s message that really makes Love, Simon shine. It is not messy. It is not complicated. In fact, Simon’s innocent yearning for first love lends the film most of its charm. It reads like a fairytale, one that promises that love really does conquer all and that happily-ever-afters can happen to anyone, no matter age, race, or sexual orientation.

The charm is doubled by the light ambiance of the film. The is no dark, gritty cinematography to weigh down the buoyancy of Simon’s hope for true love. The soundtrack, too, is contemporary but not heavy. You won’t find any edgy goth alt-rock tracks. Even the wardrobe is blissfully ignorant of the stereotypical ‘clique’ attires too often seen in high school films (there are, notably, jocks, but missing are the ‘nerds’, ‘goths’, ‘hippies’, etc.). Simon looks, and sounds, and feels, just like any other high school kid, and that’s kind of the point.

Last week, I came across an article from Time magazine that questioned whether or not today’s teens ‘really need’ a film like Love, Simon. While I appreciate the article for its discussion of Love, Simon‘s place in film history, I really do not agree with the sentiment that a coming out teenage romantic almost-fairytale in the same spirit of A Cinderella Story or She’s The Man is outdated even before its release. I feel that this reaction to the film is to miss the reason that the high school film subgenre exists.

In possibly the most emotionally-charged moment of the film, Simon’s mother (Jennifer Garner) tells him that she’s watched him ‘hold his breath’ for years by keeping this secret. ‘Exhale,’ she says to him. It will be alright. Simon believes her. More importantly, we believe her.

Not all teenagers are as lucky as Simon. Not all kids grow up with a caring, supportive network of family, friends, and even school administrators. Not all kids are accepted for who they are. Fiction can be kinder than reality, and sometimes the best truths come from a fantasy. So when Simon’s mother accepts and supports her son, for the scared, lonely, closeted teen, it might feel a little bit like they’re accepted too. It’s an industry standard to have teen films that celebrate the outcasts–and hasn’t the LGBTQ+ community fit that term for centuries?

When Simon declares his love, and goes for the obligatory end-of-romcom romantic gesture, he is not an outcast. He is surrounded by his classmates, loudly and obnoxiously cheering for him. We too, in the theater, cheered and screamed and cried when we finally found out who Blue is. Simon’s victory became our own, and if that’s isn’t the reason we watch cinema, I don’t know what is.

Is Love, Simon going to change Hollywood? I hope so.

A film about a gay romance doesn’t have to be a dramatic hard-hitter or Academy Award-nominated like Moonlight or Call Me By Your Name to be a success. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, mind-boggling, or tear-jerking. It doesn’t have to do anything other than entertain its audience because that is all a film about a heterosexual couple would need to do. Love, Simon delighted me, and for that, I deem it a success.

Love, Simon is now showing in U.S. cinemas.