Movie Review: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
by Karina Le | published Sep. 10th, 2018
(Objectively, 4/5 stars, but in my little romantic heart it's 4.5/5)
Compared to cable TV, Netflix Originals are bringing a larger variety of entertainment to viewers than ever before. Glancing over new releases like the premiere original cartoon comedy “Disenchantment,” and a show highlighting diversity called “Queer Eye,” there was a particular Netflix original movie that struck my eye: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
Based on a novel by the same name, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” follows a girl by the name of Lara Jean Covey (played by the beautiful Lana Condor) as she falls in and out of love with boys. Unlike some girls who may prefer confessing, Lara Jean writes love letters to all of her crushes to cope with her unrequited feelings, and ultimately gets over them. These letters are hidden away in a box in her room, safe and sound. One day, however, she finds out from one of her past crushes — Peter Kavinsky (played by Noah Centineo of "Austin and Ally" fame) — that someone sent out all of her letters. Now Lara Jean has to confront all of her past crushes — and maybe fall in love while doing it.
Reaction and Response (Spoiler size: XS)
I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum because I feel like people who already love teen romcoms should definitely check this one out. With a mix of my favorite romance tropes (fake dating, becoming strangers to friends to lovers, and just a slow build in general), I have fallen in love with these movies. There is simply so much to love that I’m unsure where to start! And for people who don’t really enjoy romcoms but feel like seeing a movie just to see a movie, I highly recommend this one with its short run time of 99 minutes.
That being said, I would like to note that this movie is a Netflix Original. So sorry for those of you who don’t use Netflix, because you’re not able to watch it anywhere else.
It’s a beautiful movie through and through, from the lighting, the actors and even the shot composition. The way this movie was filmed especially makes the viewer actively see when and how the characters fall in love with each other, and it really can’t be described as anything other than beautiful.
As for the plot, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a basic, boy-meets-girl love story. Nevertheless, the characters are distinct enough to make for a memorable movie. Lara Jean’s awkwardness will get at the hearts of anyone who has pined over someone before. The film is definitely a delight and a terror for people who experience second-hand embarrassment. Boys and girls alike will also fall in love with Peter. With his charming smile and his caring demeanor, he definitely makes viewers wish he were a real guy. The whole cast is strong — even the minor characters like Joan the waitress.
Despite my praise, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is the same predictable rom-com movie you've seen a thousand times before, with a climax not as exciting as the trailers build it up to be. The ending is very subtle; my brother even described it as “way too anti-climactic.” I had argued with him then, but now after re-watching the film I am inclined to agree, but only just a little. There is ample foreshadowing, there aren’t a lot of twists and turns to keep you at the edge of your seat and you already know who’s going to end up with who by the end of the first act.
But to me, the movie's focus is on two people getting to know each other, and falling in love that way. This process is slow however, and despite its lack of a big climatic scene, it keeps the steady pace it sets in the beginning of the movie. It sounds a bit boring now that I describe it, but bear with me here; this movie is extremely important for more than what it presents in its plot.
Critique and Importance
The original source material, the book of the same name written by Jenny Han, was published back in 2014. Due to its interesting premise, however, there was already discussion about making it into a movie even prior to its publication. Yet, when you compare how movie production only lasted for about a month, in between July and August 2017, there’s a huge gap between the discussion of making a movie and having Han choose and agree with a producer (2014) and the date where the movie was picked up and produced. The question then becomes, why the wait between the book’s publication and the film’s production when a movie was already being talked about in 2014??
In an article Han wrote for a New York Times column entitled “An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally,” Han had expressed how “interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American.” It was this desire that lead to this large time gap between discussing the idea of a movie adaption, and the actual production. Han had a simple guideline for what she wanted: for Lara Jean to be Asian-American, and producer after producer rejected the movie because they didn’t want to meet this requirement.
"It’s something to be celebrated, for me and many Asian Americans, to see this rom-com about someone like me."
As an Asian-American myself, I have never seen someone like me in a romantic comedy, or even outside of Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu. The most portrayal I’ve gotten was through watching Korean dramas with my dad when I was younger, and even then there is a fine line between movies which happened to have people like me, and movies made for me, as an Asian-American. So seeing a main role being played by someone like Lana Condor literally made me dance a bit, even when the material isn’t directed to my age group. It’s something to be celebrated, for me and many Asian Americans, to see this rom-com about someone like me — like many of the Asian Americans living in the U.S. — and seeing them outside of the stereotype of “martial arts master.”
A friend of mine critiqued this movie because it was just your typical heterosexual nonsense that didn’t really affect her in the way that, say, “Love, Simon” did. She didn’t understand why people were raving about it so much when it literally didn’t do anything to progress the genre. I argued against that, and pushed that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” really did. We finally got a female Asian American lead outside of an action movie. We finally got a romance with a female Asian American lead that wasn’t homogenous in nature. We finally got representation that isn’t represented, and that’s important.