Take our advice and watch To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before as soon as possible.
On Friday Netflix released a new original movie: a high school rom com called To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the latest in its long line of sweet, feel-good romps written, directed, starring and aimed at women.
On Saturday morning, I watched the film for the first time. I watched it for the second and third time later that day. The fourth time I watched it was on Sunday. Yesterday, I watched it for the fifth time.
I’ve also downloaded it onto my phone so that I can watch it again when my phone is on airplane mode during my upcoming 17 hour direct flight back to Australia. It’s only an hour and 39 minutes long, so I figure I can watch it about ten more times on the plane.
Have I lost my mind? A little bit, yes. Is it possible for this movie to live up to the expectations that I just set for it? You better believe it.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on a YA novel of the same name by Jenny Han that tells the story of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a shy middle child who reads a romance novel every week and writes passionate, deeply felt love letters to the five boys she has had a crush on.
When the letters are accidentally dispatched to their recipients Lara Jean has to deal with all the repercussions of her secret romantic declarations being made humiliatingly public.
One of her crushes is Josh, the affable boy next door and ex-boyfriend of her older sister Margot. Lara Jean is convinced that she is in love with Josh, but could never cross that line and hurt her sister.
Which is how she ends up pretending to be in love with someone else, letter recipient number five Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Called the “cafeteria King”, Peter is a star lacrosse player, drives the universal car of cool kids everywhere (a Jeep wrangler) and is so tall you could climb him like a tree. High school romantic comedy hijinks naturally ensue.
To understand why this movie has struck such a chord you really have to watch it. Yes, it’s a teen flick, all glossy and smooth, with nary a sharp edge to it. In this perfect suburban middle class bubble race, gender and sexuality are not pressure points. (With the exception of one barely-there slut-shaming storyline that is quickly dismissed)
But that’s partly what makes it so special. Lara Jean is a mixed race heroine – half Korean, half American – and her family is a biracial, modern family. Lara Jean, a girl with a curtain of thick black Asian hair and the features of an Asian woman (Condor is American Vietnamese), is the star of this show.
Like every main character in every high school romantic comedy before her, from Molly Ringwald in the John Hughes movies to Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You to Alicia Silverstone in Clueless and Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, Lara Jean is the centre of attention, demanding to be loved. She just happens to be Asian.
And like those movies – Pretty in Pink, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You – To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is anchored in naturalism. Lara Jean is a complex heroine riddled with anxieties and insecurities who will be familiar to any woman who was ever an outcast in high school.
Though she gets a little nudge here and there from her sisters, her best friend and even her dad, Lara Jean’s evolution in the film is wholly her own. It’s empowering to watch her grow from being too scared to sit on her own in the cafeteria at lunch at the start of the film to standing up to the boy she doesn’t realise she loves after he mistreats her.
Speaking of which, can we talk about the love interest in this movie? Poor Josh, built like an indie rock star, doesn’t stand a chance against the tanned young Mark Ruffalo-looking hunk that is the jock-with-a-heart Peter Kavinsky.
This is a guy who will run across town to buy bulk Yakult for you, who will pick you and your sister up every morning to take you to school, who spins you around by the belt loop of your jeans in front of the whole class. That, right there, is some big Peter Kavinsky energy.
Think about the high school hunks of days of yore. I grew up nursing spectacular crushes on Ryan Atwood from The O.C and Jess from Gilmore Girls, both externally presenting bad boys who were secretly sweethearts but were imprisoned by the confines of society’s toxic masculinity.
I don’t even want to think about how many damaging lessons about men I internalised from watching Marissa and Rory boomerang back and forth into Ryan and Jess’ arms even though they knew that they weren’t getting the love that they deserved from them. Ryan and Jess might not have been bad boys, but they were bad boyfriends.
Peter Kavinsky? (It’s impossible to say only his first name, trust me.) He’s a good guy. He cares about Lara Jean. He makes his feelings clear to her at all possible junctions without breaking any of the rules of their fake relationship contract. He is urgent and insistent about those feelings without applying pressure. He is nice to her sisters and her friends. He respects her dad. He grins at her in a way that is goofy and gooey, all at the same time. He adores her, he adores her, he adores her.
That it takes Lara Jean the length of the entire movie to work out what we, the audience, can see from the first moment Peter cooks up the contrivance of a fake relationship just to be near her is part of what makes watching romantic comedies so satisfying.
Rom coms are not actually about making life-altering, stomach-swooping, head-spinning connections per se. They’re about believing in the possibility of making those connections. Of opening yourself up to the great opportunity and the great risk of falling in love, even if, as Lara Jean says, “the more people you let in, the more people can walk out of your life.”
They’re about believing in the existence of a Peter Kavinsky of your own, someone in your life to take you by the hand and respond: “You gotta trust.”
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is streaming on Netflix now.