Love, Victor Review: Screw you, Simon! My story is nothing like yours

Love, Victor addresses some of the criticism aimed at 2018 movie Love, Simon

Starring Michael Cimino, Rachel Hilson, Anthony Turpel, Bebe Wood, Mason Gooding, George Seer, Isabella Ferreira, Mateo Fernandez, James Martinez, and Ana Ortiz

It is perhaps easy to underestimate the impact and the significance of 2018’s Love, Simon. Directed by Greg Berlanti and written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, Love, Simon was the first mainstream gay-led movie. The fact that it took until 2018 for this to occur might surprise a member of the public who probably hasn’t been paying attention. Groundbreaking though it may be, this does not mean that Love, Simon is above reproach. Something reflected upon in contemporary reviews was Simon’s status as a privileged, white, masculine presenting man with a liberal, accepting family, which obviously does not represent the vast majority of queer experience. Obviously, it would be impossible for one queer story to perfectly represent the entire queer experience, nor should it, and, perhaps, it isn’t wholly surprising that a concession to be made in producing a gay coming-of-age story for a mainstream movie would be that the protagonist be as accessible as possible to soothe the potential discomfort of any heterosexual viewers.

Originally given a straight-to-series order by Disney+, with Aptaker and Berger in the role of showrunner, it was later relocated to Hulu over fears that Love, Victor would prove too edgy to sit alongside the rest of Disney+’s original programming. Having seen the entire of Love, Victor‘s first season, it’s about as edgy as a Beanie Baby. Perhaps as a Disney+ original, it may have had more of a significant impact on the young teen audience that this sort of show will probably be far more transformative for, as well as demonstrating Disney’s commitment to providing diverse stories. Nothing explicit or inappropriate actually occurs in the show by today’s (or, at least, the UK’s) broadcast standards, and the underage drinking and (fairly chaste) references to sexual exploration wouldn’t be amiss in Hollyoaks, so really isn’t too much to bat an eyelid at.

In contrast to Simon (Nick Robinson, who doesn’t heavily feature in the show), Victor (Michael Cimino) comes from a working class Latinx family, inhabiting a dinky apartment instead of a mini-mansion, who have deeply religious ideals and often make anti-gay remarks that persuade Victor that his road to coming out is going to be vastly different to Simon’s picture perfect fairytale ending.

Moving to Atlanta from Texas, Victor originally thinks of moving to Creekwood High as an opportunity to start afresh, especially as he questions his sexuality. However, it’s clear that Creekwood High is far from the utopia that Victor has heard, and instead finds himself pressured through expectation to start a relationship with Mia (Rachel Hilson), with whom he shares an instant rapport. However, despite his easy relationship and close friendship with her, he finds himself developing feelings for the confident and openly gay Benji (George Sear) as they work together at a coffee shop.

Love, Victor is certainly unusual in the way that it links itself to its parent material, with Victor openly criticising Simon for his experience being too easy, and this element of representation is clear throughout. With the additional runtime afforded to a 10-episode season compared to a mainstream movie, it also allows the show to dig deeper into the lives and backstories of all of the characters, including Mia’s homelife, Victor’s awkward neighbour Felix (Anthony Turpel) and Mia’s outwardly confident best friend Lake (Bebe Wood) as well as developing clear tension between Victor’s parents Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz).

Unfortunately, while there is much nuance and depth heaped upon these secondary characters, such as the burgeoning relationship between Felix and Lake, Victor is comparatively more hard-done by. While his coming out is focussed upon his fear of discovery and how the way he may be treated shall be changed, the show never really addresses Victor’s own sense of comfort with his sexuality. He balks at femininity, hinting at some sense of internalised homophobia, but he never seems uncomfortable with the feelings that he is developing, or experiencing any sense of shame or difficulty in reconciling his religious views with his emerging sexuality. These are really the gritty, realistic experiences of some queer youth as they come to terms with themselves and who they conceive of themselves to be, and it’s far more complicated than this show dares imagine. It is okay to be gay (obviously), but it’s perhaps unrealistic for a character like Victor to wrap their head around it so clearly and be able to absolve themselves of guilt and shame to enable them to engage in homosexual acts with abandon as soon as discovering it for themselves.

There’s also no ignoring that both Simon and Victor present as incredibly masculine. Quite a lot of their journey in their respective stories revolve around the concept of “passing”, or surprising those around them with their queerness. It’s notable that both of these stories have been written in this way, with the least “gay-presenting” protagonists possible, almost as if the creators are apologising for the characters’ sexuality by making them as masculine as possible in every other aspect.

However, that does not erase the immense significance of both Love, Simon and Love, Victor despite these flaws. These pieces of art are massively important for any teen viewers who can see themselves reflected in both Victor or Simon in any way regardless of how small. Representation of young queer characters, especially non-white queer characters, has vastly improved on TV, such as within Sex Education, One Day at a Time and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series though it is still severely lacking and the importance of telling these sorts of stories should not be underestimated, even though we pride ourselves for living in a modern, liberal and accepting world.

Love, Victor is fortunately helmed by very capable performers who really sell the material. Ana Ortiz and James Martinez ably perform Victor’s struggling parents, dealing with their own issues and showing themselves to be loving parents, but also demonstrating small hints of what their reaction will be to Victor despite this incredible bond. Michael Cimino himself is massively watchable and sympathetic as Victor; Rachel Hilson consistently engaging as Mia, even when the character is being impetuous. Bebe Wood and Anthony Turpel craft a brilliant love story with incredible chemistry, both of their characters incredibly affected by different but equally difficult home lives, and George Sear is perfect as Victor’s crush Benji, even though he is unable to elevate the part any higher than the two-dimensions he has been written in.

It is simply impossible to represent the entire spectrum of queer experience into just one story. The sharing and telling of these queer stories continues to be monumentally important and will hopefully continue to inspire countless more representations and depictions to improve upon the diversity of the genre.

Love, Victor is streaming now on Disney+

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