The first time Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti met Jack Antonoff, he wasn’t sure how to greet the Bleachers frontman. “I was like, how do you shake a rock star’s hand?” Berlanti laughs. “Are there rules? I’m the least cool person you’ve ever met and he’s the most cool.”
It’s a sentiment that’s a stretch coming from Berlanti, who has found immense success on both the big and small screen. In the current television season alone, he’s behind a total 10 different scripted shows, an industry record, including the CW breakouts Riverdale, Supergirl and The Flash. Somewhere along the way, the New York native found time to direct the coming-of-age tale Love, Simon, a romantic comedy that follows the exploits of its titular character: a gay high school student who’s grappling with his sexuality. Pointing the rarity any similar films (big budget studio comedies tied to young gay characters), critics are regarding the movie as a groundbreaking, first of it’s kind moment in gay cinema.
For Berlanti, who is openly gay himself and grew up closeted until his early 20s, the film is a labor of love. It’s a quality Antonoff noticed when he saw an early cut of the movie. “When we were editing, we laid in the Bleachers song ‘Wid Heart’ which plays at the end of the film,” explains Berlanti, who worked closely with music supervisor Season Kent and editor Harry Jerjean. “Jack wanted to see the film before he signed off on it, he was very moved and said he’d liked to contribute whatever he could.”
From there, Antonoff heavily contributed to the film’s inventive soundtrack which features the aforementioned Bleachers cut “Wild Heart” from their debut 2014 album along with a handful of original tracks. “He had a bunch of unreleased songs on his iPhone, some of which he had for a while,” says Berlanti. “We had already been playing with some temp music that was similar to what he played us, so it showed how in sync we were before he even became involved in the movie. It was like he was writing songs for the soundtrack before he even saw the film.” One of them was the previously unreleased “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song),” which Antonoff co-wrote with Harry Styles, and recently performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “That was one Jack played for me the first day we got together,” says Berlanti. “It really felt like it had been written for the movie.”
Khalid and Normani’s soulful “Love Lies” became an unlikely breakout hit. Also serving as the debut solo single for Fifth Harmony member Normani, the song shot to the top of the charts around the world upon its release on Valentine’s Day, peaking at No. 43 on the Hot 100. It was a surprise to the filmmakers, with Berlanti noting he didn’t even know if the soundtrack would even feature original or unreleased songs when he first signed on. “I did know I that a lot of the film it was made in homage to movies that had these great soundtracks that, at my age, you’d play the cassette tape over and over again until it would wear out,” Berlanti explains, alluding to the music of the films of legendary director John Hughes from The Breakfast Club to Sixteen Candles. “The soundtrack was the thing that kept you feeling the emotions of the movie. So it was always on my wish list to have a soundtrack that was reflective of that.” Antonoff also contributed a track he produced for Troye Sivan, “Strawberries and Cigarettes,” with Sivan notably the only openly gay artist featured.
The movie’s music also features classic songs from Jackson 5 (their take on Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas”), Brenton Wood (his 1967 hit “The Oogum Boogum Song”), and Whitney Houston’s 1987 smash “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” the latter of which holds special significance for Berlanti. “I’m a huge Whitney fan and I wanted a moment in the film that represents Simon’s inner life and his dream of being utterly happy one day,” he explains of what turned into a major sequence in the movie. “We didn’t have a problem clearing it, but the issue was in it’s cost. It was very expensive so everyone wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.” In fact, in order to pay for his pricy soundtrack, Berlanti had the hindsight to wrap shooting two days early. “I wanted more money to be put into the music. I knew it’d be hyper expensive.”
As for whether box office receipts will be as successful as the movie’s music is up to audiences. “What’s so great about the film and what’s been so rewarding as we’re watching it play for audiences, young, old, gay, straight is how everyone can invest in this boy’s journey,” says Berlanti. “It’s exciting to watch all kinds of people really connect with it.”