Hollywood coming-of-age love stories are often cliché: Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love. Boy breaks her heart. Girl finds herself and takes back the boy. It’s undeniable that audiences love a good happily ever after, but what happens when the cliché love story focuses on two teen boys who fall in love over email?
That’s what Love, Simon, the film based on Becky Albertalli’s beloved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and directed by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek), explores through relatable high school experiences such as self-doubt, an excruciating identity crisis, and, of course, heartbreak.
“When I describe it I say it’s about two boys falling in love over email, because to me that’s the heart of the story,” Albertalli tells EW of her coming-of-age story. “It’s about the connection they have in common and haven’t been able to share with anybody else, and what that relationship, even the friendship — before it occurs to them that it could be something romantic — could open for them.”
Translating Simon’s love story from page to film, and doing it accurately, was always the priority for Albertalli. While she had one specific concern — “The fact that this is a book that’s told in emails, I thought that it would be kind of this unresolvable barrier when adapting it to film,” she explains — the author recalls that within the “first few seconds” of a phone call with production company Temple Hill and distributing studio 20th Century Fox during the auctioning stage of her book, her worries were quickly put to rest.
“There were little places here and there when I would offer some input, but my role was really cheerleader from the beginning, because this is just such a thoughtful team who understood the material so well,” Albertalli says.
In the wake of queer indie films — Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight and Best Picture nominee Call Me By Your Name among them — painting rainbows over Hollywood’s heteronormative landscape, Love, Simon is the first gay teen rom-com released by a mainstream studio.
“I’m thinking about kids in the South and Midwest who their small town might not get some of the really beautiful and acclaimed indie films that are kind of coming out in this space,” the author explains. “If Love, Simon makes it there and it’s mainstream enough that everybody’s watching it, then a kid who’s not out yet can see that it’s not a big deal and they get to feel seen. That’s my hope.”
Which is why the author felt inspired to continue exploring and expanding the world of Simon and his friends including Abby (Alexandra Shipp), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg) and of course Leah (Katherine Langford), who is the central character in Albertalli’s new book Leah on the Offbeat. The author promises a lot more Simon and Blue, but tells EW she didn’t want to focus on the couple too much: “You kind of have to break up the couple or add certain drama to make the narrative interesting and I’m like ‘absolutely not!’ I will protect them with my life.”
As for Leah, Albertalli felt the character had more to give. “By the end of the book and the film she’s the one, more than anybody, that feels like there’s more story there,” the author tells EW. “She kind of gets the sore end of the stick and Leah deserves a love story too, but I promise the same group and characters that people know and love from Simon.”
Although her intentions were never to impact culture with a mainstream gay love story, when she first wrote the novel in 2013, her past experience working with gender non-conforming teens and as a psychologist gave her a “general sense” of the type of issues facing the LGBTQ community. As a result, her book, now a film, was the author’s unintentional “love letter” to the kids who “were and continue to be so important” to her.
“I like the idea of a broader range of people feeling seen. This is something that everybody on the team wanted to communicate to the viewers, especially viewers from the LGBTQ community who, culturally in the media, have not received that message very frequently,” says Albertalli.