When it comes to teenage romantic comedies, it’s difficult to come up with something new. Too often these films tend to feel like new renditions of very familiar territory. Thankfully, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before does not follow that mold. With some exceptions, Netflix hasn’t found much success with their original films and recently they appear to be moving away from that. Based on the 2014 young adult novel by Jenny Han, this film feels fresh and introduces some new faces with good performances.
I’ll be honest, until it showed up on Netflix, I knew nothing about this film or the novel. As the trailer began to play the plot device immediately intrigued me. Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has written secret love letters to every boy that she has ever had a crush on. After she writes the letter, she hides them away in her closet because she is too shy to actually share her true feelings. One day these letters are mysteriously delivered to each of her crushes and Lara Jean is forced to deal with the outcome. This is both different and interesting! Everyone can relate to having that crush that you’re too nervous to talk to or you’re too scared to share your feelings with. The thought of your crush reading a letter you wrote to them is terrifying, especially if you never intended for them to actually read it! Because of this plot device Lara Jean is instantly relatable to the viewer and it pulls you into the story. Unfortunately the film drifts away from this and it all feels somewhat forgotten.
When the letters are delivered, Lara Jean’s biggest concern is the revelation of her feelings to Josh (Israel Broussard), her next door neighbor, closest friend, and boyfriend to her older sister. In order to convince Josh that her feelings are ancient history, Lara Jean starts going out with Peter (Noah Centineo), another recipient of her infamous love letters. Both she and Peter have ulterior motives for starting their fake relationship and agree to a contract with boundaries that are sure to guarantee that neither of them develops feelings for the other. You can see it from a mile away; they start to develop feelings for one another. Now I don’t think that every film needs to contain an unexpected twist in the screenplay so this didn’t bother me at all. Part of the charm in this rom-com is its simplicity. Yes, we’ve seen this before, two seemingly opposite characters falling in love isn’t original, but that’s okay because the plot device works as a good way to bring them together.
Lana Condor is what I will remember the most when I think back on this film. She gives a really solid performance and is able to carry the film. Noah Centineo gives a genuine performance where he works as the jerky jock that’s ultimately misunderstood. He’s charming and adorable in all the right ways and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future. The performances from Lana Condor and Noah Centineo are a large portion of why this film works. The two of them have really believable chemistry. The development of their connection with each other is evident and you can sense their nervous energy. Too often it can be difficult to pinpoint what establishes a relationship between two characters but this film does this really well. Their shared conversations about their parents, Peter’s daily notes to Lara Jean, his kindness towards her younger sister, it’s all so clear why they end up falling for each other.
Overall Lana Condor manages to have great chemistry with all the cast, especially her dad (John Corbett) and sisters (Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart). They felt like a real family with a strong bond and this was really nice to see. Their family was inviting, realistic and gave you those warm feelings of home. Those warm feelings can be felt all throughout To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The screenplay, written by Sofia Alvarez, is sweet and realistic. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on and again that’s more than okay. My issues with the screenplay come with the decision to move away from the plot device. After the initial delivery of her letters, Lara Jean doesn’t seem too concerned about them anymore. Every once in awhile Josh will show up and we’re reminded of her crush on him, instead the film becomes more about Lara Jean falling in love with Peter and learning things about herself. Altogether Josh’s character is just pretty forgettable.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a really enjoyable watch. It’s a simple teen rom-com, under two hours and definitely worth your time. Hopefully Netflix will continue to make more films that are solid as this one.
3 out of 5 stars
Director: Susan Johnson
Writer: Sofia Alvarez
Starring: Lana Candor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish & Anna Cathcart
Release Date: August 17th
Runtime: 1 hour and 39 minutes
Image Credit: Imdb via Netflix