So, recently I went with a friend to see a lovely little film called «Love, Simon», based on the book «Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda» by Becky Albertalli. I read this book about a year ago, and I remember absolutely devouring it. She managed to capture the exact feeling of coming to terms with your queerness while at school, so much so that I remember being actually shocked that it was written by a woman, and that it wasn’t auto-biographical. The teen gay in Albertalli is incredibly strong.
There is always some hesitation when going to see a film adaptation of a book you love. Will they omit something vital? Usually. Will it be different to how you imagined it? Almost definitely. But «Love, Simon», as far as I could tell, was an incredibly faithful adaptation that retained the spirit of the book, while leaving its own mark on the characters. I remember being completely glued to the screen for fear of missing something – I know I’m going to have to watch it again, soon.
But this film isn’t just a good adaptation of a great book. The best thing about it is the effect it had on the audience. Obviously I can’t speak for everybody, but I don’t think I’ve come out of a film feeling quite as euphoric as that in a very long time. My friend and I both said exactly the same thing: ‘I wish I could have seen this film fifteen years ago.’
Now, don’t get me wrong. Although the feelings are realistic, the plot is a little out there. Growing up in the north of England, I knew very early on that I was the only out gay guy at my school. My first gay relationships took place entirely online – three different guys, only one of whom I ever managed to meet in real life. And I don’t think I’m alone in this – if I did, I probably wouldn’t be admitting it. And maybe it’s different now, but at that time, there were no outlets for younger people – if you were gay, you could only meet people at a gay bar. As a sixteen year old, that isn’t overly helpful. It didn’t help that there weren’t many (if any) decent role models on television – the only two that spring to mind right now are the guys from Channel 4’s Queer as Folk, all of whom aren’t exactly people you’d want young, impressionable teenagers emulating. And then of course there was the token gay character in HBO’s Sex And The City, who showed up periodically when it was convenient for the main characters and added pretty much nothing to the plot. He might as well have been a tiny, yappy dog in Carrie Bradshaw’s handbag. So it’s refreshing to see an actual three-dimensional character. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to have a gay character in something that isn’t solely about their gayness. I know, I know. Change takes time.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great film, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it isn’t perfect. The biggest stumbling block isn’t so much with the film, but with the casting. Simon is portrayed by Nick Robinson, who has that typical boy-next-door handsome look, and he’s only 23 so he can get away with playing a teenager as long as you dress him exclusively in hoodies and jeans. But there’s just one problem. He’s not gay. You would think that finding a gay actor in Hollywood wouldn’t be that difficult, but as this is the first major studio film to centre around a gay romance, I think those Hollywood executives were erring on the side of caution. They didn’t want to pick someone ‘too gay’ (which is something I’ll come to later). It’s a perennial problem – going back as far as NBC’s Will & Grace – the actor playing the titular Will Truman is actually straight (ironically, the studio rejected glorious flaming queerlord John Barrowman for the role, stating that he was ‘too straight’).
There’s a flash-forward scene later in the film where our hero imagines his life at university as an out and proud gay man. He finishes tacking up a poster, completing a montage of gay icons before being swept up into a song and dance number with a number of other brightly dressed people, all to the tune of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Then he comes back to reality and admits that he probably won’t be that gay. This is problematic, but realistic. I think as fledgling homosexuals, we are all sucked into the idea of there being degrees of gayness – let’s call it the Liberace scale. If you register a one, you’re likely to be scorned for putting ‘masc4masc’ on your Grindr profile. A two to a three is peak Acceptable Gay™. Four is pushing it. Anything above a five, you’ve gone wrong somewhere. As an adult (well, sort of), I can see that this is ridiculous. Sexuality is indeed a spectrum and there are shades of grey everywhere (definitely more than fifty), but the idea that your sexuality has any sort of bearing on your personality is a harmful stereotype that really should be stamped out.
The film isn’t great on body positivity either, but that’s to be expected from a major Hollywood studio. There are films about overweight people accepting themselves, and there are films about gay people accepting themselves. I’d like to see a chubby, queer person going on a journey of self-discovery and finding out that their life is actually valuable too. But no – you can be either fat or gay, not both.
I should stop now before I ramble on too long. I don’t want to pick it apart too much because I did really enjoy it. I really do think this is really a step in the right direction, and I hope it marks the beginning of a new era of cinema. But I’d love to hear your thoughts – maybe you disagree? Leave a comment below, or you can find me on Twitter and Instagram as @sprakskatan. Thank you for reading, anyway, and as always – I’ll see you next month.