Love Si­mon

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Grace Moretz) who is sent to gay con­ver­sion ther­apy — a sub­ject that also will be ex­plored in Boy Erased star­ring Lu­cas Hedges (Lady Bird) later this year. Then there are TV sit­coms such as NBC’s new Cham­pi­ons, and Net­flix’s One Day at a Time and Dear White Peo­ple, all of which promi­nently fea­ture teenage char­ac­ters who hap­pen to be gay.

What sep­a­rates many of these sto­ries from past LGBTQ rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Broke­back Moun­tain, Philadel­phia and The Cry­ing Game is their con­tent: The lat­est char­ac­ters aren’t “pun­ished” for be­ing gay, and if they are, their jour­neys are punc­tu­ated by hope­ful mes­sages about ac­cep­tance.

Cameron Post “had a pos­i­tiv­ity to it that re­ally struck me when I first read it,” Moretz told the crowd at a post-screen­ing Q&A in Park City, Utah. “What one of our first con­ver­sa­tions was about was that it deals with such heavy sub­ject mat­ter. And the real­ity of the sit­u­a­tion for these kids is so heavy, but we wanted the in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships to be real and fun.”

Si­mon is sim­i­larly heart­warm­ing, draw­ing com­par­isons to a “gay-themed John Hughes movie,” says Greg Her­nan­dez, founder of gay en­ter­tain­ment blog Greg in Hol­ly­wood.” That’s re­ally the break­through here: It’s a love story about youth. It’s not tragic and has a lot of com­mer­cial po­ten­tial.”

As a pro­ducer, Ber­lanti, who is gay, has cham­pi­oned LGBTQ char­ac­ters on shows, in­clud­ing Daw­son’s Creek, Riverdale and Ar­row. For him, it was cru­cial to avoid some tropes while lean­ing into oth­ers: Si­mon, a soft-spo­ken mu­sic geek who hangs with both ath­letes and the­ater kids, and his more flam­boy­ant class­mate, Ethan (Clark Moore), show very dif­fer­ent but equally lay­ered por­tray­als of gay men. On the flip side, the movie also em­braces some rom-com con­ven­tions, as Si­mon plans a grand ro­man­tic ges­ture to try and find his mys­tery boy.

“With each char­ac­ter, whether they’re straight or gay, you try to add au­then­tic­ity to them,” Ber­lanti says. The roles re­flect high school stereotypes, yet “the point was to have sto­ries sim­i­lar to what we’ve seen be­fore, but put a new twist on it.”

That mix of con­ven­tional and ground­break­ing is what ul­ti­mately stands out about Si­mon, which has re­ceived strong re­views (92% positive on ag­gre­gate site Rot­ten Toma­toes) and has earned close to $33 million at the box of­fice. Com­ing at a time when only 23 movies re­leased by ma­jor stu­dios last year fea­tured LGBTQ char­ac­ters, ac­cord­ing to GLAAD’s Stu­dio Re­spon­si­bil­ity In­dex, it could also help push the nee­dle for­ward for more gay sto­ries on the big screen.

“This is a way to make it palat­able to the main­stream,” Her­nan­dez says. “If they can get teenagers in to see this, that’s key. If this makes a de­cent amount of money, I think we might be see­ing more of them.”

AY­OMBHU MUKDEEP­ROM/SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Pent-up pas­sion be­tween Oliver (Ar­mie Ham­mer, left) and Elio (Ti­mothée Cha­la­met) was at the heart of awards sea­son fa­vorite “Call Me By Your Name.”

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