I want to talk about Love, Simon. But first I need to talk about another queer coming-of-age movie.
When I was 16 my best friend and I stayed with my dad for the school holidays. On that trip, we went to Video Ezy and rented some of the trashiest movies we could find, determined to turn the entire two weeks into some sort of extended sleepover. One of those movies was But I’m a Cheerleader.
It was everything 16-year-old me wanted in a movie – awkward humour, flipping the bird to gender roles, and cheezy declarations of love.
It was also HELLA gay.
We didn’t know this going in because we were 16 and reading the video sleeve was for losers but it didn’t take us long to figure out what we’d got ourselves into. And man, I was fucking delighted.
See, up until then, I’d never even considered there could be a movie about gay people that didn’t require Tom Hanks to die horrifically of AIDS. Gay movies weren’t for me, they were for the Oscars. Serious stories about tragic lives that were so far removed from my own burgeoning queer experience as to be laughable.
In my own teenaged way, I understood that such movies were important. But I was a 16-year-old struggling with the onset of mental illness. I had enough angst in my life, thank you very much.
So But I’m a Cheerleader? Was a goddamn revelation. It was funny. It was ridiculous. It had in-jokes aimed squarely at ME. And it did all of that along with giving its protagonist and her love interest their happily-ever-after.
But I’m a Cheerleader was important for me, but it was important for how very unimportant it was to the world at large. This was no Oscars darling. Wikipedia describes it as doing well on the festival circuit but it’s widest cinema release was 115 theatres. While it’s a beautifully scathing portrayal of shitty gender roles and compulsive heterosexuality, it’s also campy and ridiculous as fuck.
It was right at home with every other technicolour teen monstrosity we rented that night.
Since that night, I’ve wrestled my sexuality into a vague sort of understanding in my head. I’ve dated men and women. I’ve tried on an awkwardly long list of labels before giving up and just calling the whole mess “queer”.
I also haven’t lost my love of stupid campy movies. And, God bless the internet, I now no longer have to rely on video stores to give me access to the queer ones.
I’ve delighted in gems like The Birdcage, Imagine Me & You, Big Eden, and Saving Face. But I’ve also found special places in my heart for teen trash fires like D.E.B.S and G.B.F. I shy away from Oscar darlings and arthouse cinema because 99% of the time, those movies are aimed squarely at straight audiences and are intended to make you cry at the end to boot.
But here’s the thing about that list up there. The cute romps, the trash fires, the super serious award-bait dramas: all these movies can and do exist AT THE SAME TIME.
Onto Love, Simon.
There’s an article making the rounds at the moment titled, “Love, Simon Is a Groundbreaking Gay Movie. But Do Today’s Teens Actually Need It?“
The article makes a few good points. Love, Simon’s story is extremely mainstream in its presentation of masculinity and middle-class white suburbia. But where the article falls down is in this expectation that a queer movie needs to be something. That it needs to serve a purpose.
And I get it, in part. Queer movies even existing in the mainstream is still a radical act. We want to be putting our best foot forward. But when you dig into it, that expectation is a crappy one.
745624523559 straight romances come out every day and most of them don’t serve a decent script let alone a purpose. And you know what? Most of us still consume them like the junk food they are.
Love, Simon might be junk or it might not be, I’ll have to actually see the thing before I make that call. But the thing is, even if it’s 100% mainstream fluff, it still deserves to exist. Queer audiences deserve their terrible mainstream movies as much as they do their historical biopics or their arthouse darlings.
Do teens need Love, Simon? Maybe, maybe not. But they don’t need the other fifty-thousand trash-fire comedies they’re probably going to consume either. Putting a mainstream teen comedy under the microscope and asking if it deserves to exist is ludicrous, and yet that’s what we’re doing to Love, Simon.
Seeing queer people onscreen shouldn’t be relegated to high art. At the very least it’s a distorted sense of queerness but it also others us just as effectively as anything the Hays Code Era ever did. If we’re gonna be equal, we’re gonna have to let the shitty stories stand with the earth-shatteringly good ones. For every Moonlight, we need a D.E.B.S.
Because being Queer isn’t always srs bsns. Sometimes it’s howling with laughter while gay boys are being taught to service a car with nothing but innuendo.
Queer movies have no responsibility to be good any more than straight movies do. What they do need to do is exist.