Simon never gives his friends the chance to rally around him, instead tricking them into situations that benefit only him. […] Simon is privileged in every single way except one, and the movie isn’t great at acknowledging that his manipulations are unacceptable.
When Love, Simon was being marketed, it was sold as a heartwarming, mainstream look at a coming out story. What the film actually delivers is a much muddier look at a difficult time in a teen’s life, and the poor decisions he makes in order to keep his secret.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a closeted high school boy who starts corresponding online with an anonymous teen at his school who is also in the closet. Over the course of their emails, Simon and “Blue” grow closer and develop a deep connection. But when another student Martin finds the emails, he blackmails Simon into setting him up with his friend Abby in exchange for not outing him. As the laws of plotting demand, the setup goes poorly, and in retaliation for his humiliation, Martin posts Simon’s emails to the school’s gossip site, making Simon’s sexuality the subject of school-wide chatter. Fearing the same treatment, Blue ends their correspondence. Devastated and shunned by his friends for meddling in their lives in service of his secret, he publishes an open letter declaring his love for Blue and inviting him to join him at the neighborhood Carnival. After a tense waiting game in which a crowd of other students gathers, Blue appears, revealing himself to be Simon’s friend Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale.)
Writer K. Austin Collins made the case that the only progressive thing about the story was that it was just as banal as heterosexual teen romances, and it’s hard to disagree. The movie is good at setting the stakes for Simon and laying out the reasons that he ends up manipulating and lying to his best friends. The problem is that the stakes aren’t extraordinarily high. Simon is from a loving home with parents who are open and expressive, his friends are welcoming of him, and he himself admits that there’s no real reason to be in the closet other than that he isn’t ready to come out yet. All of those things are well and good, but what it doesn’t do is justify his behaviour convincingly enough to make it sympathetic.
Anyone can understand the panic and stress that might come along with the exposure of an intimate secret, but for Simon, the stakes are so low that it’s frankly confusing as to why he doesn’t head Martin off at the pass by simply coming out to the people close to him. Even just having his friends and family at the ready to defend him if things got out of hand with his classmates would have gone a long way to making the experience less traumatic. He would have had a shield of people who loved him and were invested in his well-being enough to protect him, as allies to the queer community should. Instead he betrays their trust by setting in motion and elaborate scheme aimed only at keeping a secret that would have come out eventually anyway.
It’s a little hard to parse the situation without accidentally downplaying the immense personal decision that is coming out of the closet. The fact of the matter is that Simon wasn’t ready, and didn’t want confront his sexuality in a public way yet. One of the film’s best scenes is the one in which Simon angrily tells Martin that by outing him, he took away his choice to reveal a fundamental part of who he was. That’s understandable. High school is hell, and teenagers can be endlessly cruel. But weighing his secret against his friends’ trust and confidence in him feels oddly unfair. Simon never gives his friends the chance to rally around him, instead tricking them into situations that benefit only him. It’s something that would be unforgivable in any other circumstance, and it feels condescending to give it a pass here. Simon is privileged in every single way except one, and the movie isn’t great at acknowledging that his manipulations are unacceptable.
Truthfully, the film is largely inoffensive and if it helps other teens figure out their own relationship to their sexuality it should definitely be counted as a win, but don’t queer teens deserve at least a little more than the absolute bare minimum?