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Postcommunion for the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church

O God, who of elect and living stones dost fashion for thy divine majesty an everlasting habitation: We beseech thee to assist the supplications of us thy people; that, like as thy Church increaseth in outward and visible habitations, so it may grow and prosper in all inward and spiritual advancement; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review(ish): "Love, Simon" and "Geography Club"

Did they remain friends when they went back to school on Monday? Or did they immediately return to their respective social circles and continue ignoring each other? … If the kids show up to school on Monday and form a new clique that breaks down social barriers and challenges conventional high school’s idea of archetypes and popularity hierarchies, that makes The Breakfast Club a piece of shit movie. … We’d lose the realism and honesty that was present throughout all of The Breakfast Club’s non-weed-related moments. … The right ending would have the kids all going back to their own cliques, because that’s how you survive high school. The criminal goes back to being high and making fun of the brain, the princess goes back to ignoring everyone, and the jock continues doing whatever popular jocks do in high school. That ending makes The Breakfast Club heartbreaking and real and kind of a perfect movie. 
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I went to see Love, Simon today. As well-made gay movies so often do, it left me feeling really jumbled up inside—caught between liking the characters, empathizing with their angst, and feeling sorry for myself about not having what they have. [1]

The premise is straightforward: the Simon of the title is seventeen, has a generally happy and normal life, and a secret: he’s gay. He has been in the closet for four years, even to his closest friends. He starts trading anonymous e-mails with another gay teen [2] at his school, known only as Blue. He becomes more and more taken with Blue and desperate to find out who he is; but Simon is also still attempting to maintain his passing status, afraid of the social fallout of making his sexuality public. Then an acquaintance, Martin, finds out, and decides to try and blackmail Simon in exchange for a chance with Abby, a friend of his.

WARNING: HEREAFTER BE SPOILERS

The blackmail works, and Simon makes hay of the relationships of his friend group, trying to keep Abby available for Martin by redirecting another friend toward a different girl—who, unbeknownst to Simon, is in fact in love with him. When Abby turns Martin down after a very public, very dramatic declaration of love, he spitefully publishes proof of Simon’s homosexuality. Simon’s friends, on finding out about his lies and manipulation, desert him, and Blue, frightened by the sudden publicity, cuts off all contact with Simon. After a homophobic prank, however, Simon’s friends gradually decide to forgive him, and even Martin feels guilty and tries (with limited success) to make some amends. Finally, Simon finds the strength to accept the ways his life has changed, and sends the anonymous Blue a public invitation to meet him—which is, at the last moment, accepted.

It’s finely acted if formulaic. Nick Robinson (the lead) and Katherine Langford (of Thirteen Reasons Why fame) do particularly well, as do Tony Hale and Josh Duhamel. What I found interesting, though, was comparing and contrasting Love, Simon with a highly similar film that came out five years ago: Geography Club.

The plot reads like a bad plagiarism of Love, Simon, at least at the beginning. Russell, a teenage boy, is starting to think he’s gay and gets interested in an anonymous fellow student online. He and the guy eventually meet, and it turns out to be the quarterback, Kevin. The two share a kiss, which another student sees; she tries to get them involved in the Geography Club, which is in fact a clandestine LGBT support group (they chose the name because they thought it sounded so boring that nobody else would want to join). Russell does, while he and Kevin conduct a secret relationship. Russell and his best friend Gunnar, thanks to the former’s new status as a running back on the football team, even start dating two of the most coveted girls in the school. However, in order to stay on good footing with his teammates, Russell is forced to humiliate another member of the Geography Club, and gets thrown out. Then, when a double date with Gunnar seems to be getting sexual, Russell rejects his girlfriend’s advances, hurting her deeply and prompting the other girl to start spreading the rumor that he’s gay, and he and Gunnar argue over Russell ruining both dates. The other players force him off the football team over the gay rumor, Kevin included, and Russell is left completely isolated; until the kid he humiliated, understanding the pain of being an outcast, extends a friendly hand to him.

The Geography Club finally decides to go public. Kevin begs Russell to keep seeing him secretly, but Russell refuses. He and Gunnar make up, and do a parenting project together for a class. Russell outs himself decisively by attending the first open meeting of the re-formed LGBT club. Kevin almost goes as well, but can’t face the prospect of losing his place playing football, and passes by.

The structural parallels are obvious—and perhaps inevitable, given that high school stories are all but invariably social dramas, which, when dealing with queer issues, become more intense exponentially. But Geography Club’s handling of its material, if on a much lower budget, was to my mind far more inventive and realistic. Like the eponymous group, a film titled Geography Club is not likely to have a vast audience, at least not immediately (some films, like Clue, prove to be slow burns); and I must admit that there were some deliciously cringeworthy moments on the part of the adults in Love, Simon that its predecessor lacked.

But what Geography Club did so well was to present, not only in the character of Russell but in Kevin’s as well, the two distinct arcs of coming out to oneself and coming out to everybody else, and it depicted the possible consequences of the latter with much more force. Not because the consequences for Russell in Geography Club were worse than they were for Simon in Love, Simon, though they were; rather, the power came from how the consequences in the earlier film lasted, whereas the consequences in the later one were all swept away by the end. Geography Club has, on balance, a happy ending, but it’s a complicated and fairly realistic happy ending, and one that doesn’t involve Russell and Kevin riding off into the sunset together; which is almost literally how Love, Simon ends.

In Geography Club, there is moral development in each character, or the definite refusal to develop thanks to cowardice or vanity; Simon and Martin and the rest make choices in the later film, but we aren’t quite left with a sense that they’ve grown. Simon often expresses the fear that everything will be irrevocably different if he comes out, but nothing really is. And that isn’t a terrible message by any means—some people need to hear it; coming out is scary even when it doesn’t have to be—but it is also (in my opinion) a less interesting message than ‘Sometimes change is worth it.’

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[1] I don’t simply mean ‘a boyfriend’ here, though that’s certainly something I want. But whether sad or happy, what (nearly) all movies have in common is resolution, which life often lacks, at least while it’s being lived.
[2] To any LGBT teens who happen to be reading this, for the love of heaven, please do not think that trading e-mails with an anonymous person who might want to shag you is a good idea.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't see "Love, Simon" but plan to.

    I remember a British movie "Get Real" from 1998 with Ben Silverstone and Brad Gorton. It is also set in a high school with two closeted (at least at the beginning) boys from different cliques who have a secret relationship.
    I found the ending quite realistic--except maybe for the part when one of the kids comes out at a school assembly. That plot twist seemed more common 20 years ago.

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