Films in the pseudo-genre that can collectively be termed as "queer cinema" often meet three criteria by the very nature of their subject matter. The first is that gay films are usually considered "prestige" pictures, meaning they are designed to appeal to a select group of cinephiles, most notably straight allies who like to feel good about their progressive attitudes and the awards attention that self-congratulation carries. This distinction is largely because it has been commonly understood that conservative American audiences were going to reject explicit homosexuality, and consequently LGBT films became a niche corner of the film industry. The second criteria is that LGBT films are often romances, which is understandable considering that questions of sexuality are intrinsically tied to intimacy, but it means that queer themes are often restricted to the context of falling in love in a world that doesn't accept that love. The third criteria is that queer films are often tragic, with at least one of the queer characters falling victim to a society actively hostile to them and creating a relative dearth of celebratory feel-good queer films.
That indulgent explanatory opening largely exists to demonstrate why exactly Love, Simon feels so different from most cinematic offerings where queer identity plays a central role. This is a film marketed as a teen comedy, casting a wide net with the hopes of pulling in general audiences with characters relatable to their daily lives. There is a romantic element to Love, Simon, but that romance isn't the primary focus of its protagonist's development and the main conflict is still uniquely tuned to the queer experience. And, perhaps most importantly, Love, Simon is an unapologetically joyous experience, rich with dramatic stakes, yes, but also wickedly funny and intently designed to leave the audience with great feelings leaving the theater. It's this spirit of pleasant normalcy without sacrificing the queerness of its protagonist that carries the film to greatness, and even if you don't relate to Simon on a personal level the film is an empathetic and immensely entertaining experience.
Simon (Nick Robinson), as his opening monologue explains, is a normal teenager who likes killing time with his friends and looks forward to getting through his senior year of high school. Except Simon has one secret that no one knows: he's gay. However, after an anonymous online post from one of his classmates claiming to also be closeted, Simon starts emailing this anonymous confessor who simply calls himself "Blue," himself taking the anonymous moniker "Jacques." Life becomes more complicated, though, when a classmate gains access to his email chain, threatening to expose Simon's sexuality if Simon doesn't help him flirt with one of Simon's close friends.
What's remarkable about Simon as a character is that he isn't closeted because he's ashamed of being gay. His parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) are progressive liberals, his friends would all be totally understanding, and the majority of his classmates accept gay identity as a fact of life. Love, Simon isn't so much concerned with shame as a reason to stay closeted, though it certainly acknowledges that bigoted behavior still exists and affects every out queer person. No, Simon's concern is the change that comes from coming out. There's a tangible difference in how people treat you before or after you come out to them. There are concerns that those you've known longest will feel betrayed for not having been told sooner, that your family will feel guilty for not having been better supports when you clearly had a secret, that you will have to reinvent yourself to more fully embrace that newly acknowledged aspect of yourself. This is a film that so completely understands that aspect of coming out that it's not only revelatory to straight audiences for whom the particularities of this experience are new and nuanced, but it illuminates an aspect of the queer experience that those of us who lived through it may have conflated with our own shame in coming out.
But for all that thematic drama, Love, Simon is still a remarkably funny movie. Simon and his friends are emblematic of awkward teenage eccentricity. They laugh and wittily toss good-natured barbs back and forth while navigating crushes on one another and the tribulations of parties and social networking. Supporting turns from Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell as school officials are hilarious, respectively overeager and jaded, and Simon's blackmailer is given a cringe-worthy lack of self-awareness by Logan Miller's performance. This is a film that understands that the value of its entertainment value is in the likeability and chemistry between its characters, and in that it succeeds beautifully.
Love, Simon is about as good of a version of what it sets out to be as one could possibly expect. The Gilmore Girls-esque overwritten banter may grate on some, but those witticisms are part of the movie's charm. All the movie had to do to succeed was paint the normalized gay experience at its center as a positive and affirming one, but it goes one step further in being insightful and completely heartwarming. This is a film that inspires both tears and laughter, often simultaneously, and there are multiple character monologues that are applause-worthy for both their content and delivery. Here's hoping this sets the stage for more mainstream queer cinema, because this is a hell of a step forward.