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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Review

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Poster
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Poster
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Poster


Release Date: 17 August 2018
Director: Susan Johnson
Writer: Sofia Alvarez [Based on the novel by Jenny Han]
Cast: Lana Condor - Noah Continuo - Janel Parrish



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Posted August 20, 2018 by

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Review

In Netflix’s latest original film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, sixteen-year-old Lara Jean (Condor) loves reading romance novels, but in reality, her heart belongs only to Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard). Trouble is, Josh is dating her older sister Margot (Parrish) and now Margot’s off to Scotland to study and she’s not leaving without dropping a huge truth bomb on Josh.

Just when her life couldn’t get any stranger, Lara Jean’s secret love letters to her five former crushes mysteriously get mailed to them. It is bad enough that Lara Jean now refuses to face Josh, she also has former crush Peter Kavinsky (Centineo) hounding her with an idea that might just benefit both of them. The only problem is, sometimes a fake relationship can be just as complicated as a real one.

Jenny Han’s 2014 young adult novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a break-out hit, especially given that the lead was a Korean-American girl. Not enough romance books or films engage with racially diverse protagonists, which is why the film adaptation of this book is already receiving rave reviews. Netflix is the perfect platform for a film that this destined for a cozy afternoon viewing.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Still of Noah Centineo and Lana Condor (Credit: Netflix)

The story is unfussy and twee, retreading the markers of romantic comedies gone before it without falling into too many tropes. The young cast puts on refreshingly effortless performances – none of which will blow your mind, but is fitting for the calibre of the film. They all exude a youthful charm that will keep you interested in watching the entire film.

I commend writer-director duo Alvarez and Johnson for creating a film sans the overwrought histrionics that are part of the lexicon of most young adult media. The characters go about their trials and tribulations with tentative confidence and subtle emotions. I am so glad I didn’t have to sit through prolonged scenes of people yowling and yelling over every single obstacle they face. It certainly made for an enjoyable viewing experience.

The film isn’t perfect, however. I find it troubling that the majority of Lara Jean’s crushes are white boys. Author Jenny Han has addressed this criticism at IndieWire, but the filmmakers could easily have changed the racial identities of at least one of the leading males (Lucas doesn’t count as he’s hardly in the film). If I am a hundred percent honest, the only time I watched the trailer for the film, I did not realise that Josh and Peter were two different people. The actors look alarmingly alike. While this may suggest that Lara Jean has a type (which is completely normal), it does little for diversifying the romantic leads.

I also found the film’s non-engagement of Lara Jean’s family’s race a little problematic. Does race have to be an issue in every film starring a non-white actor? No, it does not. But, racial dynamics do form a (sometimes troubling) part of everyday life, and a nod towards that in the film may have leant itself to the authenticity of its story.

My only other criticism would be the handling of the character Gen (Emilija Baranac). The film works hard at subverting regular rom-com clichés, but in Gen we have yet another ex-best friend-turned-Mean Girl character who is so incorrigibly petty, she ceases to be an actual person. Among a cast of otherwise mellow characters, Gen sticks out too much. I suppose that is the point, but it felt like a wasted opportunity to create one other well-rounded female character.

I am way past the target demographic for this film and, off-late, I have definitely struggled to find the appeal in young adult fare. Too many teen/ young adult books and media wallow in trivialities, which is probably why this year’s Love, Simon was such a mega-hit. No matter how frivolous a film, there should be underlying layers to captivate the viewer. What I loved about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that it captures the sweet magic of a feel-good film with its simplicity and fundamental moral code. Unlike The Duff, which this film is very reminiscent of, we don’t have bad boy male characters turn good – we just have blank-slate male characters who we begin to like.

There has been a renaissance of Asian films recently with Crazy Rich Asians, Searching and this film all being released this summer, and many are hoping that these films will usher in a new era in Hollywood film-making. But there is still plenty of work to be done. In Hollywood, Asian equals South-East Asia and Japan, which leaves out large chunks of the population. Sub-continental and Middle Eastern stories and actors are still left out of mainstream Hollywood, and are rarely featured in genre films. So, while films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before can’t be expected to be everything for everyone, they are a good start at bringing representative cinema to the fore. Just don’t keep us waiting too long, Hollywood.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
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