“To all the boys I've loved before” is a rom-com you need to see
I’m a rom-com nerd. And while I struggle with some of the storylines, particularly those that place women in awkward and stalker-ish situations with potential love interests, I try to acknowledge their problems and still enjoy them.
Thankfully, Netflix’s movie adaption of Jenny Han’s 2014 novel of the same name is a feminist’s dream, particularly because of its charming and enchanting cast and the use of a cliche trope, fake dating, which results in two teens figuring out their true feelings for one another in a sweet, funny and romantic way.
In the opening scene of the film we see 16-year-old Lara Jean (Lana Condor) in a dream sequence with “love” interest Josh (Israel Broussard) who also happens to be her older sister’s boyfriend. She’s interrupted by her younger sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), who asks if they’re still hanging out. We see that Lara Jean is keen on living out her love life through books.
We learn that Lara Jean and Josh were best friends before Josh started dating her sister Margot (Janel Parrish). It’s been two years since they started dating and instead of telling Margot or Josh how she feels, she writes her feelings for Josh in a letter. But, Josh isn’t the only recipient of one of Lara Jean’s letters — she has five carefully written letters stored in a satin green box on a shelf at the top of her closet. The letters are for five boys — Kenny from camp, Peter from seventh grade, Lucas from homecoming, John Ambrose from Model UN, and Josh. She writes a letter every time she has a crush so intense she doesn’t know what to do, and right there is the plot point we know we’re going to see played out over the course of the film.
Not long after Margot leaves for college in Scotland, Lara Jean is tasked with older sister duties, including taking care of and hanging out with her younger sister Kitty. Lara Jean is clearly struggling without the help of Margot, and also with being a teenager in eleventh grade. Kitty takes notice and talks to Lara Jean about her lack of social engagement while the two are watching “Golden Girls” on a Saturday night. Kitty decides to do something drastic to pull Lara Jean out of her comfort zone — she sends all five of Lara Jean’s letters, hoping that one of them will reciprocate Lara Jean’s feelings.
Lara Jean has no idea that her letters were sent and during P.E. the next day Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) confronts Lara Jean about her letter. In true romantic comedy fashion, Lara Jean faints on the track with Peter standing and looking over her after she wakes. Then, Lara Jean, seeing Josh walking toward her and holding another one of her letters, frantically kisses Peter on the track to avoid confronting Josh, and then takes off for the bathroom. As if things couldn’t get any worse, while in the bathroom, Lara Jean is confronted by Lucas, who also received one of her letters. He tells her he’s flattered, but that he’s gay.
Understandably, Lara Jean is freaked out. She runs home, digs through her closet and realizes her green box where she kept all of her letters is missing.
And this is where the fun begins.
Lara Jean ends up at a local diner, drinking soda at the bar, when Peter Kavinsky walks in and they have a conversation about the letters. From there, Peter seizes the opportunity to make his ex-girlfriend, Gen, jealous by fake dating Lara Jean (and Lara Jean benefits as well because it steers Josh away from her.) They draw up a contract, including no kissing, but has subtle and cute details such as Peter must watch “Sixteen Candles,” and Lara Jean must watch “Fight Club.”
Over the course of the next three months, the two become inseparable, and Peter helps Lara Jean start to break out of her shell. In true rom-com fashion, the two begin to fall for one another which leads to a school ski-trip, a “sex” tape (with no sex), stolen scrunchies, a confrontation between Margot and Lara Jean about Josh, and the realization that Peter and Lara Jean may have been fake dating but actually love each other.
And what’s so great about this film is that it has true depth. Lara Jean struggles with opening up to people because of her mother’s death, and Peter is a jock who’s father ran out in them and started a new family. Besides Lara Jean and Peter though, other characters in the movie have incredibly interesting back stories and trajectories. Lara Jean’s father (John Corbett), is a widower trying his best to raise three biracial girls by himself. Margot, the oldest big sister, heads off to college by herself in Scotland. And Kitty, the youngest and most precocious sister of the bunch, doesn’t remember their late mother.
At the center it all of this, is this Korean-American biracial girl, living an ordinary teenage life and dealing with romance, loss, school and family. Where we’ve seen Asian Americans cast-typed into nerdy or weird roles, we get Lara Jean who would have normally been cast as a white woman in Hollywood. The film is an important and necessary reminder to Hollywood execs that rom-com leads do not have to be white. And while the character is played by a Vietnamese-American actress, I think the film and Jenny Han deserve kudos for centering the character in the film and her culture on screen.
The film does an outstanding job allowing teenagers to be teenagers and exploring the mundaneness and excitement of teen love. Like it’s predecessors before it who employed the fake dating trope, “She’s All That,” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is the perfect romantic comedy for anyone to watch and enjoy.
The film is great because it doesn’t center the pain of abandonment or loss, but the beauty in family, in sisterhood, in friendship and eventually in teen love. And, as far as rom-coms go, it’s one of the best because it’s just downright sweet.