I’ve had Jenny Han’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy on my ebook pile for ages, before Netflix even announced that they were making a movie out of the bestselling book franchise. To my great shame, I’ve been too busy to actually read it. (Planning to make up for it this weekend though). Still, I’been a sucker for teenybopper rom coms for as long as I can remember so I went ahead and watched the Netflix original movie anyway and it was really cute.
Synopsis: Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) is a 16-year-old who’s not really big on expressing herself and instead writes intense love letters when she gets a crush on someone. She doesn’t send out the letters but keeps them safely in a box in her room and simply uses it as a way to let out her feelings to keep herself from going nuts. One day, she is surprised that the five secret letters have found their way to the hands of the boys she had crushes on — Josh (Israel Broussard), her next-door neighbor and her sister’s ex-boyfriend; Peter Kovington (Noah Centineo), who was also her first kiss; Lucas from homecoming; a guy from camp and her friend from Model UN. The next thing she knows, her world is turned outside down with the aftermath.
For a relatively short and light movie, Netflix only focused on two of Lara Jean’s crushes — Josh and Peter K. From the onset, it was already clear whom she would end up with.
I loved the character of Peter because even though he was a jock, he was really cool (albeit hung up on his ex-flame Jen). Because of his own experiences, he had a sensitive side which resonated with Lara Jean and he was an all-around nice guy too. I loved the fact that he made his fake relationship with Lara Jean so light and breezy so as not to scare her off but because he was a typical teen, he didn’t really know how to deal with his own growing feelings for her either. I liked that he was so cool with letting LJ into his circle of friends and entering her own circle as well. He and Kitty bonded pretty quickly.
As for Lara Jean, she could be forgiven for being a little dense, because she had no previous romantic experience (except for romance novels) to actually help her deal with her boy problems. And we all know that Sixteen Candles, although it was a pop culture phenomenon in the 80s is not the best relationship reference for millennials like herself. It was cute how her 11-year-old sister Kitty was more insightful than she was. And while it made me cringe to hear about how she started off her letter to Josh, it was really adorable at the same time because she was trying to sound all grown up.
I think Netflix was on the right track when it decided to eliminate three other love interests so early in the game and focus on only two remaining “contenders.” At first, the Josh vs Peter angle held a lot of promise but I felt a bit disappointed that there was very little character development on the part of Josh. While it was made to appear that Josh seemed conflicted about his feelings for LJ upon receiving the letter, it turned out that he didn’t really harbor any romantic feelings for her at all.
While there were a lot of cute scenes between Lara Jean and Peter K., it ended at that — cute. I felt that the film did not fully establish the depth of their bonding by skipping through Lara Jean’s personal dilemma. There was a lot of back and forth about Lara Jean’s mom’s death and it really helped establish her fear of relationships but I felt that towards the end, it was a bit of an overkill already because they kept going back to the same issue again and again. I felt that the film could have benefitted from some additional scenes that showed Peter wrestling with his feelings for Lara Jean as well so they could have met at some point.
The movie’s main strength was the strong chemistry between Peter K. and Lara Jean which was super evident from their first meeting. These two are adorable and their interactions are always something to look forward to, whether it be bantering over LJ’s driving skills (or lack thereof), to kissing each other (for show), to inking their secret deal, to having heartfelt conversations or making out on a hot tub and owning up to their feelings, everything was sellable and I for one, ate it up with gusto. I loved how these two characters were different but the same.
I loved that the script was so millennial and the sets were so artsy. It felt like each scene was Instagrammable. The family element was also well established, although it got a bit tedious at times.
All in all, I give #ToAllTheBoysIveLovedBefore a thumbs up. Its not rocket science but it manages to deliver on a feel-good romantic comedy and reminds us all what its like to be confused and in love for the first time.