With Friends Like Simon…

With Friends Like Simon…

Euthanasia film bungles gay character and relationships

The Dutch film “Simon” chronicles the nonsexual relationship between a gay guy named Camiel (Marcel Hensema) and Simon (Cees Geel), a straight man who befriends him. This comedy-melodrama, which tries to be a life-affirming film about the issue of euthanasia, however, never sheds any light on the mysterious bond between these characters. Furthermore, Camiel and Simon are meant to be likeable, but in fact, both are hard to tolerate.

Simon is a one of those larger than life personalities. He deals soft drugs, works part-time as a stuntman, and believes that “life is discovered at play.” Camiel, on the other hand, is a sensitive, insecure “homo” who wants to be a dentist and seems to find acceptance at being belittled by his friend at every opportunity. These two men, who meet in a car accident, have nothing in common, yet they are fast friends. Perhaps the film’s most nagging question is why does Camiel puts up with Simon who berates and belittles him over the course of their turbulent friendship. It’s hard to be sympathetic toward someone who appears to be so senseless.

As the film opens, Simon and Camiel are reunited after 14 years apart. Camiel relates to his partner Bram (Dirk Zeelenberg) how he and Simon became friendly, but the episodes are more interesting for showing just how insulting Simon is to both gays and women. These early scenes also reveal how Camiel slept with Simon’s girlfriend, which forced the two pals to go their separate ways.

During this trip down memory lane, when Camiel tells Bram, “I was addicted to Simon’s weird world,” but it’s hard to see what the attraction was. When Camiel says, “and I put up with his political incorrectness and his comments about my gayness,” this only reinforces how little self-respect Camiel had back in the day. If Simon gave Camiel the confidence to forge ahead with his life, there are few episodes in “Simon” that provide much in the way of example. Those viewers who have not given up on these characters by the 30-minute mark finally arrive at the main story of Camiel caring for the dying Simon gets set into motion.

While “Simon” addresses euthanasia, but the plot’s lack of emotion fails to engage. As Camiel helps Simon’s children, Joy (Nadja Hüpscher) and Nelson (Stijn Koomen), come to terms with their father’s death, his own selfless nature—he refuses an inheritance—is meant to be noble. But it is hard to respect such a pigheaded character. Camiel never tells Bram—or the audience—why he is so devoted to his friend, and given the evidence of their friendship, it is difficult to draw a suitable conclusion.

“Simon” does not feature much in the way of pro-gay messages, save a minor subplot about Camiel’s impending marriage to Bram and how the gay couple can qualify to adopt Simon’s kids. But even this is problematic. Bram is relegated mostly to the sidelines—his feelings toward Simon are never really discussed, but it’s clear he’s more tolerant than accepting of his partner’s unorthodox friend and friendship. When Bram counsels Camiel to be courageous and attend Simon’s final days, and yes, they will love Simon’s children, it’s just too much. One gay mensch in the film is passable, but two is far too many,

Even though the film’s story is terrible, the performers do a suitable job in their roles. Simon may be a boor, but Geel certainly commands attention in his role. Likewise, the handsome Hensema is fine as his passive foil Camiel. The large supporting cast includes a fair number of women, all of whom seem to feel comfortable being topless.

But there’s no disguising the weaknesses of the film. If the message of “Simon” is that a boorish straight man helped an insecure gay guy come into his own, surely, there are better stories than this one to express it. Perhaps the opposite idea, featuring a gay man helping out a straight man, would work better. It certainly couldn’t be much worse than “Simon.”