The saccharine-heavy rom-com effectively uses its overly familiar ‘fake-first-date’ tropes to make a sweet & uplifting teenage love without over-abusing its sugary potential.
Review To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: “Make Teenage Romcom Great Again” should’ve been a tagline Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (referred as To All the Boys on later paragraphs) carrying because it indeed does it. Based on a novel of the same title by Jenny Han, this Netflix production is a clichéd, sugary romcom with manipulated yet effective plot that will make audiences smile ear to ear.
To All the Boys revolves around the life of a 16 y.o. Korean-American girl, Lara Jean (Lana Condor, Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse) who loves to read romance novels and fantasize her older sister boyfriend who happens to be their next-door neighbor, Josh (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring). When her older sister, Margot, leaves to pursue education in Scotland, Lara Jean is living a mundane life with her father and her little sister, Kitty, but not for long. An embarrassing incident happens, letters—that Lara Jean has written to the boys he used to love/have crush on but she never actually sent—unknowingly get sent to the addressees, which includes Josh and a childhood crush, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo—the guy from Camila Cabello’s Havana), a jock and boyfriend of her high-school (sort of) rival.
After a series of erroneous decisions, Lara Jean makes a silly pact with Peter Kavinsky; they agree to be in a faux-relationship. Lara Jean does it to throw Josh out of the story, while Peter does it to make his ex-lover, who just broke up with him, jealous. We know the rest. The fine line between made-up relationship gets blurred resulting in a mess of a relationship.
Anna Cathcart, Janel Parrish and Lana Condor as three Korean-American sisters in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
The saccharine-laced story is, by all means, clichéd. At the paper, the narrative is almost predictable: a three-act romcom—first act where the love blooms, second act where the love climaxes but suddenly serious trouble coming, and the third act where the protagonists dabbling in a reflective moment before they get back together. However, To All the Boys deliberately distracts audiences from the overly familiar plot with too-cute-to-be-true yet still manageable chemistry between the leads. Be it Condor’s Lara Jean with Broussard’s Josh or Centineo’s Peter, or even with Lara Jean’s sisters (Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart).
While the story seems predictable, the execution turns out differently. The narrative often presents sweet decoys that play out with audiences’ sympathy. Ever so often, Peter Kavinsky’s jock persona is often emanated as a surprising lover; at some other time, it gives the impression that he’s only a phase before Lara Jean gets back to Josh. Yet, the narrative treats Josh similarly—a so-close-yet-so-far prince charming at a time and a distracting side-kick some other time. Lara Jean’s relation with her sisters also add depth to this complicated romance. If it’s a book (which actually is), To All the Boys must have been a page-turner.
To All the Boys often focuses on little moments together between the characters to build the greater scheme. Moments where Lara Jean and Peter drafts their faux relationship contract is an uplifting scene. How they enact their ‘fake things’ are believable and, as they’re heightened to some extent, effectively presented. Those little things—the Sixteen Candles’ back pocket stunt, The Golden Girls binge-watching, driving with sisters, or even the daily notes—are giving this little romcom more impact. Condor’s vulnerable yet inspirited performance as Lara Jean makes us attached to her easily. However, it’s Centineo’s hysterically sweet performance is what actually makes this romcom a winner.
Noah Centineo as a lacrosse player and Lana Condor as Lara Jean in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Together with Love, Simon (which gives teenage romcom a fresh queer twist), To All the Boys convincingly makes teenage romcom great again. A not too distant theme and grounded details are making these sugary pop-corn flicks romantic again.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Romance, Coming of Age Directed by: Susan Johnson Written by: Sofia Alvarez based on a novel by Jenny Han Starred by: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Israel Broussard Runtime: 99 mins