Mar 23

“Love, Simon”: Closeted Teen Story

“Love, Simon” is a universal story, even if you’re not a gay teenager. The challenge of figuring out who we are and standing comfortably in that identity might begin in high school, but often lasts a lifetime. As Simon so aptly says: “No matter what, announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying.” Sandy Cohen, The Advocate

Adapted from a YA novel by Becky Albertalli called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Greg Berlanti‘s Love, Simon is the first Hollywood-type film to present the struggles of a closeted gay male adolescent while aiming at mainly a teen audience. Not only that, its reviews are generally positive, often citing its humor, warmth, and kinship to John Hughes (1970-2009) flicks.

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the plot below:

… the story of a sweet-natured 17-year-old named Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), the elder child in a picture-perfect family that includes a dad (Josh Duhamel) who’s a loving and lovable doofus, a therapist mom (Jennifer Garner) who’s as nurturing as Bambi’s mother, and a younger sister (Talitha Bateman) who dotes on her older brother and enjoys cooking. They live in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ house in a charming suburb where Simon goes to high school and hangs around with three other kids, including Leah (Katherine Langford), his best friend since he was four.

Simon is gay but hasn’t come out yet. He begins a growing but anonymous online friendship with another closeted guy at school. The closer he gets to Blue, the closer he gets to coming out, especially to his friend.

Watch the trailer:

According to Jude Dry, IndieWire, “Most LGBTQ youth will see more of themselves in Ethan (Clark Moore)…the school’s resident flamboyant.” Simon’s process, on the other hand, reveals a type of internalized homophobia common to those insecure about their orientation:

Observing Ethan being bullied, Simon says: ‘I wish he wouldn’t make it so hard on himself.’ The movie is full of these kinds of rigid gender stereotypes…In one sprightly fantasy dance sequence, Simon imagines his future life as an out gay man. When the fantasy ends, he says: ‘Okay, maybe not that gay.’ When Martin cleverly dresses as a Freudian slip for Halloween, Simon tells him ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have worn a dress. You look like a drag queen.’ Clearly, Simon could use a gender studies class…

Gay critic Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, takes the analysis further:

Queer pundits will no doubt take ‘Love, Simon’ to task for being too white, too cisgender, too heteronormative. And they won’t be wrong. But even if this is ‘Call Me By Your Name’ through the lens of the Disney Channel, there’s a place in the culture for adolescent gay kids to enjoy the shiny, shallow, pop-song-infused coming-of-age stories that their straight peers consume on a daily basis. The first one out of the gate always plays it safe; the trick now is to keep the gate open.

Duralde compares Simon’s “dream parents” to those in Call Me by Your Name. Other Simon reviewers, however, have favored the earthier attitudes of the latter.

If you haven’t seen Call Me by Your Name, the following constitutes a spoiler reveal (from Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast): Teen Elio’s father tells him “that he noticed the intense connection he had with Oliver. He doesn’t judge. In fact, he wants to make it clear that he accepts it. That he encourages it. That he may even be jealous that Elio has been able to find someone to feel so intensely about, regardless of gender.”

Provided in the article above, Mr. Perlman’s entire monologue might be viewed, states Fallon, as “wish-fulfillment for many gay people, who could only dream of being greeted with such unbridled love and understanding of who they are by their parents.”

Jan 17

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Is It Worth Seeing?

Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, among others. Is it worth seeing for the acting? The story? The “straight savior” angle? Or is the latter a turnoff?

The basic plot, from IMDB: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallick and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. According to Richard Corliss, Time, “Borten and Wallack based their script on hundreds of hours of interviews with Woodroof, then waited 20 years for the film to get made.”

After the “vocally homophobic antihero” (Peter Debruge, Variety) gets diagnosed, Woodruff proceeds to be helped by such folks as his physician (Jennifer Garner) and Leto’s transgender AIDS patient.

The Main Performances

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “McConaughey is the only reason to see Dallas Buyers Club, but he’s enough of a reason to see Dallas Buyers Club.”

David EdelsteinNew York Magazine: “It’s difficult to talk about the beauty of Leto’s performance, because he just, well, is. The transformation is so complete—­physically and vocally—that it’s hard to believe he could ever be anything else. Rayon (née Raymond) is high on being Rayon, to the point where you sometimes forget that he’s dying, too.”

Woodruff as the “Straight Savior”

Peter DebrugeVarietybelieves that making Woodruff the main character in this movie “ensure[s] that no matter how uncomfortable audiences are with HIV or so-called ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they will recognize Woodroof’s knee-jerk bigotry as uncool. And thus, the film manages to educate without ever feeling didactic, and to entertain in the face of what would, to any other character, seem like a grim life sentence.”

This sentiment is echoed by Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s the story of a lout who finds redemption through unexpected motivation, becoming an accidental activist in the process and learning a valuable lesson in humanity about how to help others after it’s too late to help himself.”

The AIDS Crisis

I think it’s well worth noting that Mark S. King of HIV Plus Magazine gives the film high praise for its gritty depiction of the truth of AIDS.

A river of infected blood runs through it. So too does practically every other bodily fluid, along with bruises that won’t heal and purple skin lesions and flakes of dry, reddened skin. And that’s kind of beautiful. Because that’s what AIDS looked like in 1985, and it’s been ages since we have fully remembered it…

I have never seen AIDS shown this way in a film. And of all the movie portrayals of the disease, from Parting Glances to I Love You Phillip Morris, nothing else has captured the ugly physicality of AIDS like Dallas Buyers Club. Even the tearful hospital-bed goodbyes in Longtime Companion seem overly romanticized by comparison…