To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a movie so sweet, so pure, after spending 100 minutes in this world you might leave your couch with a sugar high.
We pick up the story as 16-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) prepares for her junior year of high school. She’s bookish, an introvert to the outside world — someone who fantasizes more about boys than talks to them — and happy enough. But the somewhat recent death of her mother and Margo’s, her big sister, decision to leave for college in Scotland hang heavy on her. Rather than spend Saturday nights out with friends, she streams Golden Girls with her 11-year-old sister.
Her fantasizing is not new, however. Not hardly. Per her own count, she’s had five real crushes in her life. Five “so powerful I don’t know what to do.” Rather than act on the emotion she writes a personal letter (addressed and everything) to her crush, detailing her feelings.
It’s unclear how, but her little sister knows exactly where these letters are kept and does the mature thing — which is mail them in hopes one of the boys will want to be Lara Jean’s boyfriend. It’s not the worst plan, to be honest. Shoot your shot.
Lara Jean’s life gets complicated almost immediately. Two of the boys who receive letters, Josh (Israel Broussard) and Peter (the internet’s boyfriend, Noah Centineo), have questions. Josh is Margo’s ex, and dating him would be both awkward and difficult. Peter, on the other hand, is your classic jock and sort-of-not-really-but-maybe dating Gen, one of the most popular girls in school and Lara Jean’s ex-best friend. As far as Rom Coms go, the movie doesn’t re-invent the wheel in any meaningful way — the high school in this movie is still the land of jocks and preppy popular girls and shy losers — but the tangled web of relationships presented drives the story’s narrative engine forward and is worth your time.
Peter and Lara Jean start a fake relationship (to help Peter win back Gen) governed by a tautly-drawn contract which lays out the ground rules: no kissing, each has to watch the other’s movie-pick of choice, etc. If you’ve seen a movie like this, you know what happens next. Despite all their better intentions (all their rules!) they fall for each other. It’s hokey, it’s sweet. Their romance is built on the emotional scars that loss leaves on one’s heart: For Lara Jean, it’s her late mother; for Peter, it’s that his dad skipped out on his family. In the midst of their fake relationship, real healing happens. And real feelings do, too.
Centineo has received the most press following the film’s Netflix debut, but I was more taken with Condor’s Lara Jean. Her character feels more real, more raw than Centineo’s Peter. He’s too cool and his life too stable for us to feel anything more than a shrug when Lara Jean tells him to take a hike after the school ski trip — the film’s climatic moment. In comparison, Lara Jean’s ride between cliques is more fully formed and Condor plays it well. She’s smart, vulnerable, vibrating with youthful energy and nervousness. Every decision she makes is made with the seriousness of the apocalypse. She’s great. She’s perfect. And her chemistry with Centineo makes this film work more than the clever, if played, Rom Com story that drives things along.
It’s easy to imagine this film becoming somewhat of a generational touchstone for TATBILB‘s intended audience — as much as the Snapchat Generation can have shared cultural experience. Every generation (every decade, even) has one, and TATBILB has already clearly made an impression into the zeitgeist. As a movie, I think it’s mostly fine. As a Rom Com? I think it’s even better. The premise is strong, the leads are great, and there’s enough going on to support multiple viewings. It may not be my cup of tea, and that’s OK. I’m a coffee guy. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is just a little too sweet. But some people take their stories with a spoonful of sugar.