Netflix’s ‘To All The Boys I’ve...’ Is Teen Romance Done Right

‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does whole-hog justice to its genre by ticking off all the appropriate boxes.

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A still from <i>To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before</i>.
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Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before hit the streaming service on 17 August and it’s already on its way to becoming a cult phenomenon, besides whispers of a sequel floating around on the internet for hopeful fans.

A tender coming-of-age high school romance, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before does whole-hog justice to its genre by ticking off all the appropriate boxes, plus making room for another one - casting an Asian American as a protagonist in a regular milieu. Based on Jenny Han’s New York Times best-selling novel of the same name, the film makes best use of the romantic plot devices that have made the genre ever so popular, to deliver an adorably endearing love story. It’s the kind of film you want to watch for ’em warm, fuzzy feelings.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before begins with Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Candor) introducing the audience to all the intense crushes she’s had and the imaginary world she’s created for herself, thanks to her obsession with romance novels. Lara Jean’s life as an “invisible” high-schooler quickly goes out of control when five love letters she wrote to her crushes mysteriously reach their recipients. What follows is a fake date pact with lacrosse-playing-jock, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) that forces Lara Jean to come out of her fantasies and face her fears in the real world. Predictably, the contract is easily at risk due to real feelings coming in the way, which in turn threatens to topple Lara Jean’s invisible yet comfortable existence.

The success of Netflix’s summer romances serve as a reminder why people flocked to the theatres in the 90s to watch rom-coms, and why channels like Romedy Now and the like still continue to exist. But To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB), directed by Susan Johnson, makes slight but essential modern tweaks that elevate the young adult genre.

The main leads and supporting characters have been allowed reasonable space to grow with well-etched character arcs. Barring Genevieve (Emilija Baranac), who plays the role of Peter’s ex girlfriend and Lara Jean’s ex best friend, that remains true. Using her vindictive ways to derail Peter and Lara’s budding romance, Gen is never given a backstory or any reasons for her mean-girl act and that is a real disappointment.

Notwithstanding, it’s heartwarming to see the male protagonist show his sensitive side and isn’t afraid to talk about his “feelings”. His little quirks, like his need for social media validation, the way he quizzically raises his eyebrows at everything - whether irritating or charming, Centineo effortlessly slips under Kavinsky’s skin to give us one hell of a hero. And his relentless pursuit of an oblivious Lara Jean is a thing of beauty.

A still from <i>To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before</i>.
A still from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)
My favourite subplot is the bond Lara Jean shares with her elder sister, Margot, who moves away for college at the start of the film, and younger sister, Kitty, who plays an active role in Lara Jean’s love life. Their easy camaraderie is woven into the storyline in a way that’s completely relatable.
A still from <i>To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before</i>.
A still from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before intersperses millennial romance with old-world, toe-curling moments to make the rom-com an engaging watch. From changing their home-screen wallpapers to writing love notes, Peter-Lara Jean’s romance is peppered with simple and terribly, terribly sweet exchanges that make you keep going back for more.

The film does not reinvent the wheel but it uses every old trick in the book, to great effect. Don’t be surprised if you end up watching it more than once!

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