What’s game-changing about the teen romcom Love Simon, in theaters this Friday, isn’t that it features a gay, teenage character—it’s that the gay character is finally the lead, as opposed to, say, the cool girl’s flamboyant, stereotyped sidekick, who gives her fashion advice and fawns over how “fabulous” she looks.
Love Simon—based on the popular YA novel Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by the This is Us screenwriters, directed by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale, The Flash), and produced by those who brought us The Fault in our Stars—is being touted as the first major studio film aimed at teens about a gay teen. So there’s a lot of anticipation.
Watch: Coming Out Stories: Greg Berlanti
“I’m just like you,” 17-year-old Simon (Nick Robinson) says in voice over, as the film opens with vignettes of him and his friends hanging out at school. “Except I have one huge-ass secret,” he adds, while we watch him tell a hot guy carrying leaf blower in the neighborhood that he likes his boots. “Nobody knows I’m gay.”
Simon struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity—including being blackmailed over a secret online romance and figuring out how to come out—but he also experiences the 360 degrees of confusion, excitement, and torture that every high-school student does: There are jocks, nerds, and artsy kids, parties, football games, unrequited love, and of course plenty of teen angst. Like Easy A or The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, this is a good high school movie: honest, funny, sad, and neither exploitive or too saccharine.
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True, Simon’s home life is a bit ideal. His family has perky breakfasts together in their magazine-perfect kitchen. But the heartbreak is in the details. When his dad comments about The Bachelor being “so gay,” we cringe right along with Simon. The movie doesn’t push its own boundaries quite as much as a 13 Reasons Why (whose lead actress, Katherine Langford, costars), but it doesn’t fall back on the exaggerated stereotypes so often seen in LGBT media portrayals either. It’s relatable and long overdue.
Here, get to know the characters who make the movie so damn good—and the seven scenes everyone will be talking about. (Spoilers ahead.)