Film Review: To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
- Spoiler Alert because I saw this movie without knowing anything and it was a great viewing experience -
This decade hasn’t been the best for delivering good rom-coms. Push the blame onto the changing technological dating landscape or whatever but I mostly think it’s just because society has become too radically jaded to swoon over a fluffy romantic comedy. Even I, as someone who grew up strictly on k-dramas and fanfiction, thought I was over YA cutesy rom-com fluff as a wise, old twenty something. But To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before proved me the fuck wrong because it has been less than a whole day since it premiered on Netflix and not only have I already watched it four times but you know I also rewinded to my favorite scenes at least a dozen times. And after which, I quickly proceeded to binge all my favorite teenage rom-coms including but not limited to A Princess Diaries, A Princess Diaries 2, and A Cinderella Story. In fact, I did not get out of bed until noon today because I was so in my feels over this mushy, fluffy, adorable fucking movie! It delivers the best kinds of fanfic-y tropes (a combination of Fake Dating Contract™ and a very mild Haters-to-Lovers™) and stars an Asian American actress in Lana Condor as its protagonist. If my sixteen year old self grew up with this movie, my self-confidence would've been through the roof and it would've been over for all you bitches 😏.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on the NYT Bestselling YA novel series by Jenny Han, is about Lara Jean Song Covey (Condor) who likes to write long confessional love letters to all her major crushes. She doesn’t intend on mailing them out of course, she’s not an animal. But her little sister, Kitty, is and before Lara Jean knows it, all these old crushes of hers have received the letters, including her older sister Margot’s now ex-boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard, who’s a Trump supporter, we don’t stan). To avoid confrontation, LJ somehow manages to set up a fake dating contract with another one of her letter recipients, Peter (Noah Centineo, we stan), in exchange for him getting to make his own ex-girlfriend jealous. And as we all know from fanfiction, they obviously fall in love and live happily ever after! And honestly, the best part too is that it’s so clear he fell in love with her as soon as they started and she’s so oblivious. There are points in this film where you can physically feel your heart expanding, and it makes you believe in love again. It makes my teenage heart oh so full.
If you’re a hopeless romantic at heart, this film truly is for you. I dare say it stands to become a staple in the world of Romantic Comedy, and right alongside Zutara fanfiction. And what’s been particularly interesting to see is just even the difference in, like, the unproblematic-ness(?) of this film compared to past rom-coms. It’s definitely not something stupid like The DUFF and many of the best lines in this film have also been some of the most considerate and validating sentences I’ve seen come through film. There’s no doubt in my mind why Peter, in all his young-Mark-Rufallo-esque flair, fell so hard in love with Lara Jean. The chemistry between Lana Condor and Noah Centineo is abundantly clear and carries the story beautifully through all the fluff (and there is a lot of fluff).*
Just as crucial to the chemistry and the writing of the story are perhaps some of the production values that went into this film. Who says just because it’s a YA rom-com that it can’t be aesthetically beautiful, and if this film doesn’t get nominated for cinematography, set design, and costume design, I’m gonna fight someone. The film is washed with tints of teal and Millennial Pink, possibly reflecting the rather typical heteronormative trope-y-ness of the story, but in this case, I'm not mad. Instead, the colors took me to the same place as Penelope and Pushing Daisies and elevated the look and feel of the film to a more fantastical level. Directing and shooting a romantic comedy can be difficult - but the lengths the crew took to elevate this film does not go unnoticed. Just look at that cinematography! That, paired with its many scenes in the local diner (I love a good diner, see: A Cinderella Story) took me from simple fan to complete stan. I was already in the midst of trying to grow my hair out, and Lara Jean's hair and fashion looks solidified this goal for me. The soundtrack also features Blood Orange for Christ's sake!
And lastly, I guess this is the place I should bring up the hot-button topic of media representation, which, frankly, I’m getting sick of. With this film and Crazy Rich Asians premiering in the same week, the mountain-sized pressure of politicized representation and #repsweats have been exhausting to say the least. That’s partly another reason why I was hesitant about watching this movie too. But I’m reminded of the importance of media representation, no matter how small or seemingly pointless, after seeing this film. Lara Jean is a young Asian American woman and I could really see myself in her, both in her personality and in her physical appearance through Lana Condor. It was…refreshing and made me sad for my younger self who missed out on it. Not for the sake of male validation but for the sake of seeing someone like her be so loved on for just being her. The fact that in the past 24 hours, I’ve seen several other Asian American women like myself relate so hard to this feeling specifically through To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before makes me sad and hopeful. But most of all, it makes me really want to mail out love letters to old crushes and have fake dating contracts.
*Edit 8/23/18: This movie has absolutely destroyed me, and it's all I've been able to think about since it premiered. It has very clearly broken the Internet and Lana Condor and Noah Centineo are going to save the world with their cutesy-ness uwu.