As we near the end of summer, there seems to be a bit of a resurgence for the romantic comedy genre, both on the big and small screen. The latest film to join the ranks is Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) is a 16-year-old girl who spends more time in her head than truly living in the real world. In her spare time, Lara Jean likes to read romance novels in her room, fantasize about the boys she’s crushing on, particularly her older sister Margot’s boyfriend Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard), or spend Friday nights watching episodes of Golden Girls with her youngest sister Kitty. Lara Jean’s life is quiet and drama-free, which is exactly how she likes it. But when love letters Lara Jean has written to 5 boys she has been secretly crushing on are unintentionally sent to their respective homes, the teen’s uncomplicated life is just about to get messier, especially when two of the 5 letters happen to go to Josh and popular lacrosse jock Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo).
When Peter confronts Lara Jean about the letter and it dawns on her that her sister’s now ex-boyfriend also knows her secret feelings for him, Lara Jean is desperate to throw off Josh from the contents of the letter. Thinking of a way they can both benefit from this awkward situation, Peter proposes to Lara Jean that they fake date each other so she can avoid a confrontation with Josh and Peter can make his ex-girlfriend jealous, who also recently broke up with him. What could possibly go wrong?
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on Jenny Han’s YA series, and while the plot itself is a bit far-fetched (what romantic comedy isn’t?), the cast somehow make it work. Condor as Lara Jean is a worthy teen rom-com heroine, and when paired with Centineo’s Peter Kavinsky, their chemistry is just electric. John Corbett plays Lara Jean’s corny but well-meaning father, and Lara Jean’s sisters Margot (Janel Parrish) and Kitty (Anna Cathcart) round out the rest of Lara Jean’s family, whose relationship with one another is heartwarming, grounded, and relatable for those who are close to their siblings. The writing is strong and the dialogue is at times poignant and memorable. It’s amazing the amount of life advice you can get from this single movie alone!
The film itself feels familiar in how it seems to draw from classic romantic comedies that came before. When Lara Jean balks at Peter’s admission of never having seen or heard of John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles, and Lara Jean’s ultimate favorite movie, she insists that their fake relationship contract has to include a required viewing of the film. Name dropping Sixteen Candles is very specific in that the old ’80s classic has quite a bit in common with To All the Boys. Both movies include a heroine who find themselves in embarrassing predicaments and Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys is very much like a modern day Jake Ryan but better than the one in the Molly Ringwald led film.
What also sets To All the Boys apart from other romantic comedies of the past is its prominent Asian American main character. Lara Jean is a half Korean, half white teenager whose Korean half is acknowledged in the movie but takes care not to make a big deal out of it. Her ethnicity is one part of her identity and not the entirety of it, as it should be. With the wide theatrical release of Crazy Rich Asians and Netflix’s To All the Boys having come out in the same month, there’s a noticeable change and awareness finally overtaking Hollywood to create more inclusive and diverse stories. It also helps that both Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys have done extremely well with critics and audiences alike. My only pet peeve about To All the Boys is that it didn’t get optioned for a wider movie release the same way Crazy Rich Asians got. It makes you wonder if To All the Boys would have had the same critical success Crazy Rich Asians is currently rolling in.
At it’s core, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sweet and hopeful teen romance. While I’m clearly not the target demographic for this movie, the inner teenage romantic in me celebrated seeing a girl who looked like me and got her chance to fall in love and be with every teen girl’s fantasy boy in the same way Samantha Baker finally kissed Jake Ryan over a lit birthday cake in Sixteen Candles.
Reviewer Rating: 9/10