To All The Boys I've Loved Before review - a realistic depiction of the messiness of first love
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Based on the 2014 Jenny Han novel of the same name, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows teenage protagonist Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor). When Lara Jean falls in (often unrequited) love, she writes a letter to the boy in question and then puts that letter away in a box at the top of her wardrobe.
One day these letters are mysteriously sent out, and the film follows Lara Jean as she navigates life and love in the aftermath. Once you get past the initially slightly cringe-worthy premise of the film, it really is worth watching.
Directed by Susan Johnson, To All The Boys is well and truly a figment of the female gaze. Narrated by Lara Jean in a truthful and relatable way and full of her own romantic fantasies, it will ring true for many teenage girls as well as adults who can look back fondly on both the ridiculousness and the utter painfulness of falling in unrequited love.
Both the romantic comedy and the teenage coming of age genres are infamously whitewashed. When was the last time you watched a classic romantic comedy where the two main characters were anything other than white? To All The Boys centres around an Asian main character and her family, but there is no tokenism in this film. These characters are exactly that - characters.
They are three-dimensional with their own stories, thoughts and feelings and are an accurate representation of 2018 teenage America. Netflix are really leading the way in terms of diversity in both film and television, and To All The Boys is another of their brilliant own productions.
Although To All The Boys is loosely centred around a main love triangle, it really isn’t the focus of the story. The ‘who will she choose’ question is more of a background plot rather than the main premise. The film echoes back to the days of the John Hughes teenage dramas of the 1980’s, in an appreciative way rather than parody. Lara Jean’s only experience of real love is through watching Sixteen Candles (1984) and she finds it hard to accept that life is not a John Hughes film.
You can’t talk about To All The Boys and not talk about Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). As far as leading men in teenage rom-coms go they are usually completely unimaginative and one dimensional; Peter however has his own story going on and despite the film being completely from Lara Jean’s perspective, he does not exist purely as an extension of her romantic fantasties. He is charming and ‘dreamy’ but is also problematic and can be selfish in parts… he’s flawed, but he's real.
The most important relationship in To All The Boys is not the one between Lara Jean and the boys, but instead between her and her sisters. Eldest sister Margot (Janel Parrish) moves away to Scotland for University at the beginning of the film, and their relationship becomes strained after it’s revealed that one of the letters has been sent to her boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard.)
Often in rom-coms the repercussions of love are overlooked, and love is instead seen as the be all and end all of a girl's life. To All The Boys shows love in a realistic(ish) light. Love is messy, love isn’t easy and love can have difficult consequences.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is available to watch on Netflix now.