Understanding the perils of young high school love isn’t easy especially when the social dynamics are constantly changing. And there is no better film to represent that than Susan Johnson’s adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The film is a delightful light-hearted rom-com that captures all of that drama and hilarious awkwardness everyone experienced in high school but with a slightly modern twist, never forgetting what it is like to be young and in love.
In the film, based on the Jenny Han novel of the same name, Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Candor) has written five love letters to five of her crushes: Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard), the boy-next-door, her sister’s, Margot, boyfriend; Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), a handsome, popular lacrosse player; John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Burtchett), a partner in Model UN; and Lucas James (Trezzo Mahoro), her former homecoming date.
These letters were written when Lara has a crush so intense she does not know what to do. Unfortunately, these letters get out, and now she has to deal with the repercussions of having a secret out in the open. And to further complicate things, Josh wants to address the issue with Lara while Margot is away. So in a desperate attempt to make sure that doesn’t happen, she makes a deal with Peter to go into a fake relationship, in which she will create some distance from Josh and Peter will use the fake relationship to make his ex-girlfriend jealous in the hopes that she will come back to him.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before takes some cues from classic fake high school relationship films like 10 Things I Hate About You. So as you might guess, these characters will learn a lot about love through the fake relationship they have and soon enough they fall for each other. And while it may be a bit predictable, it is still no less entertaining and enjoyable to watch. In fact, the film is the very reason why people Netflix and Chill.
Condor’s Lara is sweet, a bit naïve, and sincere, but the lovesick high school student has an unrealistic expectation of what love is suppose to be like. Though that can’t really be helped, especially when she is the high school wallflower. She often finds herself daydreaming about being with Margot’s boyfriend – a sequence that looks like it was pulled straight out of a Terrance Malick film – only to be rudely awakened by her younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart). Kitty is wise beyond her years, and despite being the youngest in the family, she is the one who has to give up her Saturdays so that she can keep the lonely Lara company.
The film is also a great to showcase some of Condor’s talents, talents that went virtually wasted in X-Men: Apocalypse. This is also one of those rare instances where a person of color gets to lead a film. Though the film never really makes it a point to address Lara’s race. She just happens to be Asian. But what is great about it is that we get to see a rom com through a different perspective. And that is very refreshing to see.
Lara’s inability to express her feelings towards either boy puts real stakes into the film. These letter are out there, and she has to come to terms with that. But it’s how Lara and Peter go through this fake relationship that makes you want to see the film all the way through to the end. The two set some ground rules which includes allowing Peter to put his hand in Lara’s back pocket or Lara watching Fight Club because she doesn’t know about “the First Rule,” and Peter watching “Sixteen Candles” because he hasn’t seen it. These generational pop cultural references will help bridge the gap for both the young and the old.
There are other layers to this film that add some depth to it which will help allow these characters to grow. Lara’s mother died, and her sister is in Scotland, leaving her with every few people older or her age to confide with. Though Lara’s dad (John Corbett) is able to drop some wisdom at the right, albeit predictable, moment. Peter’s dad left him at an early age, so he finds a kindred spirit with Lara. It’s the little things like this that allow audiences to grow closer to these characters and ground the film in a way that few other rom-coms have.
At the heart of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a coming of age story for a new generation. We get to see a rom-com that is a reflection of the world we live in today. Condor is absolutely charming as Lara Jean, who captivates the film with her sweet innocence and newfound strength to overcome her fears. Here we have film that adds some real stakes and has some added depth, which only makes the film that much more enjoyable to watch.