Photos | Netflix / MGM
From left: Lana Condor shines as a teenage girl whose secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” “Operation Finale” dramatizes the true story of the international manhunt for Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann after the end of WWII.
A good month for Asian representation continues with the frothy but satisfying romantic comedy “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which follows a fairly typical formula but does so with charm and warmth.
Lana Condor brings dimension to the trope of a shy, lovestruck girl as Lara Jean, and the supporting cast, particularly her family, fill out the film well. Internet obsession with every aspect of this flick is growing by the moment, and you can hop on the bandwagon for a nice time, no matter your age.
From the bestselling Young Adult novel by Jenny Han, the story concerns an intelligent and sensitive middle daughter in a family with a white dad (John Corbett) and a Korean mom, who has passed away. The three sisters are close, different and realistic, and the vitality of their relationships with one another is the first thing the film sets up. From the minute they coach their youngest sister to compliment their dad’s attempt to recreate his late wife’s Korean dishes for dinner, family dynamics are clear, and these details are so important to the character of Lara Jean.
Lara Jean is the classic middle child, leaning on her older sister as a best friend and mother figure, and even nursing a big crush on her sister’s boyfriend Josh, the literal boy next door and her former best friend. The night before the oldest sister leaves for college, she cuts Josh loose, leaving things up in the air for the platonic pair of Josh and Lara Jean.
Quiet, bookish Lara Jean has never had a real boyfriend, and her method of working through uncontrollable crushes involves writing (and, importantly, addressing) tell-all letters to the boys which are never meant to be read. Of course, a mishap leads to the letters being mailed to their recipients, who range from her sister’s ex, Josh, a boy from Model United Nations (I’ll always be a sucker for any plot point involving the Model UN) and her first spin-the-bottle kiss, who is now the most popular boy in school, Peter Kavinsky.
Lara Jean is a well-written character who subverts expectations for a young leading lady, and Kavinsky is also an unusually well-developed dream guy. The boyfriend of a mean girl, he ends up being far from mean himself. I experienced palpable relief when he talked to Lara Jean about the letter he received, and the pair soon concoct a plan that has been used in many such films before — to pretend to date each other.
I won’t spoil the extremely obvious turn of events for you, but the pleasure of the film does not come from being surprised, it comes from experiencing these characters. Perhaps because the source material is a novel, the people in the story blossom beyond their boilerplate romantic comedy slots.
Perhaps because Noah Centineo, the actor who plays Peter Kavinsky, looks just like a young Mark Ruffalo, I was utterly charmed by it. And the two young stars might be going through the motions of a teen romance that we have seen before, but knowing nods to John Hughes and other classic teen material references let us know they’re in on the joke.
So don’t feel guilty about the pleasures of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” Worthwhile role models, cultural details and a roster of believable performances make this flick worth finding out what all the fuss is about. You might appreciate the romance, or you might appreciate the family story, but you will most likely be won over.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is currently streaming on Netflix.