Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the book Love, Simon, is based on, was one of the first times I really felt seen in fiction. The book’s exploration of coming out in a reasonably-liberal environment, and how even in that context it’s still a fraught process, really hit home with me, and it was a major plus that it was within the context of a sweet, heartfelt story about friendship and first love. So it goes without saying that I was incredibly excited for the movie adaptation and its far superior name.
And on pretty much every level I think the movie succeeded both as an adaptation and as a phenomenal movie in its own right. The only meaningful complaint I have is that I feel the movie is more generic than the book in its exploration of coming out and subtle homophobia. Simon Versus has a lot of good material about how frustrating it is that coming out has to be such a thing, the way it can feel so daunting to contradict people’s expectations of you, how microaggressions and heteronormativity can make you uncertain how people will actually react. And the movie delves into those topics to some extent, but partially by the nature of the medium being more about showing than telling I think some of the impact of those topics gets lost.
On the other hand, I think there are ways in which the movie improves upon, or at least adapts excellently, from the book. The loose structure of Simon thinking of three different guys in turn as being Blue works really well, and the handful of characters the movie adds fit really well into the narrative. The more I think on it the more I realize how many individual scenes in the movie are completely new, and yet the whole thing feels very cohesive.
One of those new scenes is where Simon first emails Blue (something not in the book, which starts some time after the two began corresponding) and there’s this moment in it that really stands out to me. In his email, Simon introduces himself in relatively vague terms, gets close to coming out in what’s a theoretically secure, anonymous fashion . . . but doesn’t. There’s a strong sense of tension in the scene, and obviously part of it comes from the fact that we as the audience expect to be explicitly told this information, but there’s a painful reality portrayed here in how even in the safest of environments it can still feel so daunting to come out. I was surprised to be so affected by such a seemingly-small thing, but as someone who still sometimes struggles to talk about being gay, it was really powerful to see that represented on screen in a big-budget (for a teen movie, at least), wide-release movie.
There’s a great storytelling trick in this scene, too, which is how the audience learns that what was initially presented as opening narration is actually Simon’s first email to Blue. He opens with, “I’m just like you,” and when heard at the beginning of the movie this seems like an attempt on the filmmakers’ part to pander to the straight audience, to present a “straight, relatable” Simon before exploring his sexuality. But then after we follow Simon for a day and enter his world, it’s revealed that when Simon says “I’m just like you,” he’s speaking to another closeted teen about being gay. It’s a neat way to give the monologue a double purpose for straight and gay viewers, and it hopefully makes the straight audience empathize with Simon both times. And while I maybe would prefer a story that doesn’t even try to speak to straight viewers, I do appreciate that this story doubles as a mirror for gay people (at least those with certain experiences) while also inviting straight people to understand some of our issues.
I also love the way that the movie emphasizes, if only by omitting other parts of Simon and Blue’s correspondence from the book, the way that this is in part a story about solidarity and connection between gay people. Blue is the first person Simon comes out to, which emboldens Blue to come out to his dad, which helps Simon come out to Abby in a scene where we see that same hesitation again, but this time it’s overcome thanks to the courage Simon has gained from Blue. It’s a really powerful element to this narrative that I never noticed in the book, but really loved here.
There’s probably a lot more I could say here, especially after another viewing or two, but I’ll keep it short(ish) for now and conclude with a few random thoughts:
- The way the movie uses Simon’s morning commute to mark the beginning, lowpoint, and end of the movie was really effective. I especially loved the overhead shots at the coffee shop drive-thru.
- Martin says he has “screenshots” of Simon’s emails but when we see them posted, they’re freaking photos of the screen, like, what?!
- Using the emails between Simon and Blue to reveal interiority works so well as a way to avoid straight-up narration.
- It seriously annoys me that the writers changed it so that Simon’s family are watching The Bachelor instead of The Bachelorette like in the book, but never bothered to look up that neither air in the fall. Accuracy matters!!!