by Nicholas Rupp
Recently, I had a surreal movie-going experience, though it was only partially due to the film itself.
Love, Simon is simple, sweet (perhaps too), and — like most high school romantic comedies — requires no brain power whatsoever to enjoy.
But you likely will enjoy it (a lot), and you should see it, both because it’s funny and well done and because it’s genuinely important to support mainstream Hollywood providing reasonably thoughtful representations of nonwhite, nonheterosexual, and non-gender-specific characters on the big screen. Especially when it’s among the first times a major studio has allowed a young, gay man to fantasize about his own potential love story. As the marketing campaign says, everyone deserves a great love story, and 17-year-old gay boys have only very rarely had that available to them.
(I cannot express how important it is for us — especially for the younger, collective “us” — to see ourselves accurately reflected in our society’s art, culture, and media. It’s validating, and uplifting, and can be a huge relief when, until then, you were sure you were the only person in the history of ever who’s felt that particular way, or dealt with that particular situation, or desired that particular thing.)
But beyond the actual content of Love, Simon, what struck me is that the screening itself felt somehow like a real turning point.
For one, the theater was at least 75 percent full, and I didn’t notice any other LGBT people. I’m sure Michael and I weren’t the only nonheterosexuals in attendance, but we were definitely in the minority, and that’s never before happened to me at an undeniably “gay movie.”
Male-female couples on dates, parents with junior-high-aged children, dozens of teenage girls it was a whole cross-section of society. During the previews, I kept looking around incredulously, and I whispered to Michael, “Why are all these … not-gay people here?!”
“I know,” he said. “Are we in the right theater?”
And then the screening started, and I was as fascinated by the audience and its response to Love, Simon as I was by the movie itself.
Next to Michael, the scruffy guy in basketball shorts, who was there with his adolescent daughter, teared up when Simon finally came out to his family. Several, if not all, of the teenage girls behind us screamed with joy at the rom-com-required climactic kiss. And as the young, married, heterosexual couple down our row left the theater, they commented about how the movie was “so funny and cute.”
What?!? When 15-year-old me saw The Birdcage in 1996, several people got up and left when Nathan Lane’s character came onscreen in drag.
In 1997, at a screening of In & Out, I watched a college-aged guy (who was clearly on a date) throw his soda at the screen when Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck finally kissed.
At The Object of My Affection (1998), a woman several rows away from me exclaimed loudly, “Oh sick!” when Paul Rudd kissed another man.
In early 2006, the same locally owned chain, Megaplex Theaters, where I was watching Love, Simon, had canceled all their scheduled screenings of Brokeback Mountain over concerns about the same-sex content.
I stopped going to movie theaters after that. Not because of the behavior of those terrible people, but because I had started working at Sundance in 2005 and got burned out on film, and because I’d been finding it increasingly difficult not to be distracted and annoyed by the texting, the talking, and the squirming children, etc., that had become commonplace in movie theaters.
But there, last Saturday night, was not the same movie-going public I remembered … and it was surreal.
I might be a little bit in awe of this generation of gay kids who, while their coming out processes are of course still stressful and challenging, likely already know another gay person (if not several) and who have certainly at least seen a gay person on TV. That was unheard of when I was coming out at 15, 16, and 17 years old and desperately looking for someone in media I recognized and could relate to. (And I was lucky compared to the generations of gay men who came out before me.)
So it was surreal, I think because I’d forgotten, thanks to all the anxiety and anger surrounding the absurdity that is the Trump presidency, how far we have come. And if the audience at Saturday night’s 9 pm screening of Love, Simon in suburban Utah showed me anything, it’s that we’re not going back ever again.
Photo by Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox