A Feminist Critique of Love, Simon
I really wanted to like Love, Simon. I eagerly awaited the release for months after seeing the first trailer, thinking it would be a huge step in the right direction for LGBT representation. That was probably my first mistake – is a film about a gay, white boy really that progressive? But it is the type of feel good, romantic comedy that the LGBT community never gets, and Blue turns out to be (spoiler alert) Bram, who is black and Jewish, so I had hopes of it being better than Call Me By Your Name, maybe not cinematically, but at least in terms of narrative content. My second mistake was reading the book first, thereby setting myself up for disappointment.
The book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, was written by a woman, Becky Albertalli. I noticed that this was a point of discussion in the promotion of the movie, but everyone emphasized that Albertalli did a lot of research on writing about an experience which she, obviously, was not personally familiar with. Although I can only have so much of a voice on this topic, I believe she did an incredibly good job. The movie, on the other hand, was directed by a man, Greg Berlanti. While I am more often than not skeptical of male directors, it makes sense that a gay man would direct a movie about a gay boy. However, while Albertalli was incredibly careful to accurately depict Simon and Bram, Berlanti absolutely butchered Abby and Leah in his adaptation.
I suppose I cannot blame Berlanti entirely – the screenplay, which greatly contributed to this botched reworking, was written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. Either way, the end result is abysmal. There were subtle things that bothered me along the way: the erasure of Abby’s identity as a lower class black girl, her over-sexualized Wonder Woman costume, Lyle’s comment about how he could never be just friends with someone as hot as Abby. Yes, she is technically black, but the book makes a point to address how “weirdly segregated” Atlanta is, while the film’s only attempt at addressing racism is a comment from Simon about how Abby isn’t his type…but not because she’s black. She is definitely not lower class in the film, which we see when Simon picks her up for school. And can we talk about how they actually leave one of Simon’s sisters out of the film but add a male character whose ultimate purpose is to make a gross comment about Abby?
Anyway, the part that really got me was Leah’s declaration of love for Simon. We start to see inklings of her feelings when Leah sleeps over at Simon’s house, but I dismissed it at the time, pretending that I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. You see, in the novel, Leah has a crush on Nick, Simon and Leah’s mutual friend. This is fine because while it is a driving factor for the story, it is not her singular, defining characteristic. Also, Nick’s straight, making Leah’s crush less of an overused trope and more of a sad reality. However, in the film, Leah seems to exist only to have an unrequited crush on Simon. She is more like a prop than an actual character.
I don’t know much about feminist theory, and I already feel like I have wandered far outside of my comfort zone by writing this, but I have to say, I am baffled by the fact that this film, which seems to relentlessly perpetuate the heterosexual male gaze, was created by a gay man. How is this possible? Maybe Berlanti wasn’t the source of these egregious examples of objectification, but he didn’t shut them down, either, making him at least partially responsible. I guess the fact of the matter is that Berlanti still benefits from male privilege, making it easier for him to overlook these injustices.
My takeaway from all of this is simple: we need more women in film.