Simon says he’s got a secret.
Simon says his family doesn’t know it. He loves ’em and all, and he thinks they’d accept it. But why risk it? Why explode their idyllic nuclear unit?
Simon says his friends don’t know, either—not even Leah Burke, his best bud since they were able to walk under tables without hitting their heads. They’ve done just about everything together for 13 years. But that? That secret’s just a little too dangerous. A little too disruptive.
Simon says he likes his life right now. Mostly. Why mess up his senior year with a startling, earth-churning confession that’ll change everything, and change how everyone’ll look at him?
See, Simon likes other guys.
Wait, did Simon actually say that? Does it count if he didn’t?
Admittedly, Simon said so himself in some private emails to a secret pen pal, a guy (or girl?) he only knows as Blue. They connected after Blue published an anonymous confession on a gossipy high school blog, one that came with an email address attached. Simon mailed him his own little confession, also anonymously, crafting a fake account and calling himself “Jacques.” They’re close, these two. Intimate, even. But neither knows who the other is. When Simon walks the halls, he scans the faces of his friends and classmates, wondering just who the mysterious Blue might be.
But Simon said some stuff to Blue on a school computer and didn’t sign out of his Google account. When another student logs onto the same computer and stumbles across Simon’s emails—taking screenshots of each—that other student suddenly has some serious blackmailing material.
Simon says he’s just like everybody else. But Simon feels different. And now, someone might just say just how Simon feels … even if Simon doesn’t say so.
So. Love, Simon is a tricky film to review, given that the very premise of the movie flies into problematic territory. But within that framework, we find some sweet moments.
Simon’s parents—his dad, Jack, and his mom, Emily—are dedicated, loving and involved, deeply committed to each other and to their kids. The family eats together at the table whenever possible. They spend time together. When Simon’s little sister, Nora, an aspiring chef, concocts yet another one of her culinary experiments, everyone chokes it down with a smile as best they can. And they’ve raised pretty conscientious kids, too. Jack depends on Simon for help with everything—from hanging Christmas lights to creating a multimedia presentation in order to celebrate Jack and Emily’s 20th anniversary.
They’re not picture-perfect, Bible-believing Christian parents, as we’ll see. And they don’t have spiritual issues with Simon’s sexual leanings. But when he reveals those leanings, it still throws both parents off their game. But when they adjust, Jack and Emily respond with love, and that’s heartening to see.
The film offers a strong anti-bullying message, too, which Plugged In can also get behind. Everyone, made as we are in God’s image, deserves to be treated with respect and honor.
Blue is Jewish. He writes to Simon about how he plans to come out to his dad during their modest celebration of Chanukah: Blue visits his father in a seedy hotel, where they light menorah candles and Blue secretly prays that “the sprinklers don’t go off.” (We see Simon’s imaginings of what the scene would look like.)
Simon talks with another male homosexual student, who says that his mother lies about his sexuality all the time to family members—because those relatives are “old and religious.”
Part of the movie takes place at Christmas, so Simon’s family members decorate their tree and open presents. When Simon dresses as John Lennon for a costume party, some friends mistake him for a well-dressed Jesus.
It’s a spoiler warning, but it’s also content that we can’t avoid here: Simon eventually connects with a boyfriend, and we see the two kiss several times.
When Simon ogles a male construction worker from his bedroom window, his father walks in and startles him. Jack—who’s not yet in on Simon’s secret—jokes that he must’ve interrupted his boy either looking at erotic (female) images online or masturbating. Jack jokes with Simon about how someone looks gay, using a number of derogatory terms to describe the person in question.
Before Simon’s secret is revealed, a boy named Ethan is the only student at Simon’s high school who openly claims to be gay. Unlike Simon, he’s effeminate and dresses androgynously. In flashback, we see the moment Ethan “comes out” to his friends, who feign surprise. Ethan’s lifestyle has also made him the target of other students who bully him. But when they mock him, he turns the tables and begins crudely making fun of their manhood.
When Simon’s secret eventually spills out, two bullies mock him in the lunch room. They assume that Simon’s having a sexual relationship with Ethan. (The school’s vice principal assumes that, too, despite both students’ honest protestations to the contrary.) The bullies’ mockery also includes pantomiming suggestively as one spanks the other.
We see an odd little musical number (made up in Simon’s mind) wherein he imagines going to college and celebrating his out-and-proud gayness with a song-and-dance routine on college grounds, a rainbow flag hanging proudly in the background. In flashback, we see Simon wake up after apparently having erotic dreams about Daniel Radcliff.
Leah sleeps over at Simon’s house, something she’s done since they were little kids. They sleep in separate beds, but Simon’s parents suspect the two may be having a sexual relationship. That said, they don’t seem to care. Leah, for her part, would love it if their relationship took a more romantic turn: Ironically, Simon’s hyper-selective attitude toward his girlfriends (he’s only had a couple) inadvertently encourages Leah to believe maybe he has eyes for her, too.
In another flashback, a female date of Simon’s kisses him at a school dance and tries to speed the relationship along. But he flees to the bathroom, calls his mother and begs for her to pick him up. (He lies, saying that students are drinking alcohol at the dance.) Jack and Emily kiss a few times, and they make some uncomfortable allusions to sexual behavior. Emily tries to encourage the whole family to watch The Affair (a TV show) as a family; both Simon and Nora refuse, protesting that the show’s “all about sex.” Emily grumbles about how “repressed” her family is, and she and Jack decide the whole clan can watch FX’s sexually graphic and uber-violent The Americans instead.
Simon participates in the school play Cabaret, which takes place in what the drama teacher describes as a “German sex club.” (How does she know what a German sex club looks like? someone wonders. I’d rather not say, she says under her breath.) At a Halloween party, Simon walks in on a male crush of his kissing a girl in a bedroom. Elsewhere, we hear various characters make lewd and suggestive comments about both men and women, people talk about various body parts (in a sometimes derogatory manner), and there’s a reference or two to lingerie.
A guy goes to a costume party wearing a fake gray beard, a thin black dress and a written message explaining his outfit: “Freudian slip.” A teen girl there wears a revealing Wonder Woman costume that pairs a skimpy, cleavage-revealing top with tight short shorts. Jack jokes that Simon got someone pregnant. Both Leah and Simon suggest that they’re not “casual” lovers: Once they fall in love, each suggests, it might be forever.
Someone violently tries to wrest a microphone from a National Anthem singer. Simon grabs someone by the lapel and pulls him through the library for a private, angry chat.
One clear f-word (along with a couple other near uses of that vulgarity) and nearly a dozen s words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “h—” and “f-g.” God’s name is misused about 20 times, including at least eight pairings with “d–n.”
Simon and his friends go to a party where alcohol is served. We see teens drink and take shots. Though some express surprise that Simon’s willing to drink (he apparently isn’t known as a big partier), he makes an exception on this evening. He and others get seriously intoxicated. (One person admits later how drunk he was.) Simon sings karaoke loudly, even as some of his friends are passed out by the stage. And one fellow reveler is so drunk that he …
… vomits all over Simon’s white suit. The incident necessitates a hasty retreat back home, where Simon and Leah are disappointed that Simon’s parents are still up. They toss his vomit-stained shirt away (leaving him in only a slightly stained undershirt, with his white shoes still covered with the ooky stuff) and try to sneak past, but to no avail: Simon’s parents know what’s up, and discuss whether they should be concerned or not. “He didn’t drive drunk, and he’s home before curfew,” Simon’s mom rationalizes. “We’re good parents,” Simon’s dad says.
Jack also apparently vomits—the victim of one of his daughter’s culinary experiments. There’s obviously quite a bit of lying and subterfuge going on in this movie, much of it by Simon himself in an effort to keep his secret buried.
Mainstream movies and TV shows focused on same-sex relationships aren’t edgy outliers anymore, but absolutely in vogue. We’ve seen many examples of this trend over the couple of years, from Beauty and the Beast to Andy Mack, Supergirl to Call Me by Your Name—just to name a few. Love, Simon is simply one more such film in this crowded field.
That might very well be all that some of you need to hear in order to make your decision about whether to see this movie or not, or whether to let your kids see it. For many families, Love, Simon’s narrative focus on teen homosexuality will be an automatic nonstarter.
But I think that there’s more we need to say with regard to this film, one that’s already generating a lot of cultural buzz. For starters, all these same-sex themed movies are not … well, the same. Some preach and forcefully push an agenda. Some are more subtle. Love, Simon falls into the latter category.
This is not to say that the film doesn’t have an agenda. It obviously does. Even Simon jokingly suggests that he stays in the closet because of how blatantly unfair it is that heterosexuality is considered the standard, and everything else is a deviation—complete with a comic montage of Simon’s friends “coming out” as straight to their shocked and weeping parents. Moments like these feel nuanced and authentic. Disarmingly so, in fact. And funny, too.
But Love, Simon’s inherent likeability cuts both ways. After all, the more you like a flick, the more it’ll potentially influence you. And Love, Simon aims to influence. Lots of mainstream critics are hailing the way it normalizes teen homosexuality. And even though I might appreciate, on some levels, the film’s authenticity, that very quality also makes the movie’s quiet advocacy for homosexuality that much more problematic for families trying to raise their kids by truths rooted in Scripture. This movie reinforces messages that are all but ubiquitous in the culture today, but does so with a warm smile and a friendly hug. We like Simon. We want him to be happy. And impressionable teens—who might very well know a Simon or two in their own lives—might root for him to find that happiness on his own terms. Not (as we’re all asked to do) on God’s.
Love, Simon’s title contains multiple layers within its two words: It’s how he signs his concluding letter. It’s what Simon’s looking for. And the movie’s ultimately about Simon loving himself—exactly as he is.
Self-love is the ethos of the day, and a not unhealthy one in some ways. We’re supposed to love ourselves, just as God loves us. But at the end of the day, we’re supposed to love others more than ourselves, and God most of all. Thy will be done. That’s a deeply countercultural message in our self-aggrandizing society, where culture insists that it’s my will that counts.
Love, Simon fails when it comes to its message of self-love, I believe. But it does better (as we all do) when it focuses on others.
I didn’t love Love, Simon. The language was harsh, the sexuality was pervasive and the parents—well, the parents could’ve perhaps used some guidance from Focus on the Family and Plugged In. But they got one thing right: They loved their kid. And their kid loved them right back.
And that’s our job description as parents too: Loving our kids. That doesn’t mean we don’t question or grieve or talk with them. We strive to relate with both truth and grace, both of which are critically important. (See John 1:14-17.) But we never, ever stop loving them—a message Love, Simon rightly emphasizes, despite the significant worldview and sexuality issues that will require careful, intentional navigation by parents whose teens are interested in this culturally influential film.
For more on addressing the issue of homosexuality and teens, consider these resources from Focus on the Family:
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.