LOS ANGELES - At first it looks little different from any other teen drama, but Fox's Love, Simon is as significant a milestone for LGBT inclusion as Black Panther was for racial diversity.
While the DVD aisles of superstores the world over groan under the weight of stories of callow first love, never before has a mainstream studio romantic comedy been told from the perspective of a gay teenager.
"Everyone, myself included, can relate to Simon and his journey, and trying to find yourself and come to terms with yourself in a way that feels comfortable," the film's 22-year-old star Nick Robinson said at a recent preview screening in Los Angeles.
Directed by Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Supergirl) while he was on break from his various TV jobs last January, Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli's young adult novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
Robinson (Jurassic World, Everything, Everything) plays Simon Spier, a high school senior in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, who hasn't told his family or friends he's gay.
Compounding his problems, Simon has fallen for "Blue," a fellow closeted classmate he chats with online, although he has no idea of his paramour's true identity.
Love, Simon figures among a number of coming-of-age gay movies released in recent months, including the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which scooped top prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
What makes it unique is that it is a wide-release, mainstream rom-com aimed as much at the Saturday afternoon shopping mall market as the indie-centric festival crowd or motion picture academy.
Studios have long insisted that moviegoers won't show up for stories of gay romance, dismissing the $178-million (R2.1-billion) box office for Brokeback Mountain in 2005 as an anomaly.
Yet the phenomenal box office success of Black Panther -- $1.1-billion and counting despite a longstanding belief that "black movies" are not much of a draw overseas -- is challenging received wisdom all over Hollywood.
Love, Simon has a 91 percent approval rating, according to 23 reviews collated by entertainment website Rotten Tomatoes, and is tracking to make $18-million across its debut weekend when it opens on Friday.
.@AlexShipppp spoke on the racial diversity of the cast of @lovesimonmovie. "These actors encompass these characters. It's not a matter of skin tone, it's a matter of talent and artistic representation." pic.twitter.com/dF4Bdkzz6L— Taylor Henderson (@cornbreadsays) March 10, 2018
Box office monitor Exhibitor Relations is predicting a $55-million domestic run -- a healthy return for a project that cost $17-million to make.
"At a cultural moment when it matters so much for audiences to see themselves represented on screen, Love, Simon broadens the spectrum to include those who are questioning their sexuality," wrote Variety film critic Peter Debruge.
Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner play Simon's loving parents, while his group of friends includes Katherine Langford, the star of buzzy Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why.
"I was talking to a friend of mine as I was trying to decide, 'Do I do this? Is this movie going to work?'" Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Daredevil), said at the screening.
"And he said, 'You know, this movie would have been really helpful for me when I was growing up. This would have been a big deal for me.'"