Personally, it has been a while since a film captured the right thrill of a romantic comedy. The last one was Josh Boones’ Stuck in Love and that was simply perfection on a whole different level; it encompassed the correct level of rom-com autonomy, whilst showing that not all love is just between the teenagers. The reasoning behind using this example in comparison to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is because both show the power of growing up in the realm of a film, yet both never lose or undermine the reality of hormones, sex and the desire for love.
A fresh reimagining of the rom-com
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before categorically portrays the simplicity, complexity and stupidity of your first crush, heart break and all the bits in between. Lara Jean, played by the beautiful Lana Condor, withdraws herself from the unintentional misogynistic shadow that follows many characters of this ilk. Condor’s character is strong, intelligent and unapologetically dim witted; she doesn’t shy away from the pressures of teenage drama and she most definitely doesn’t hesitate from living in an unrealistic world of a Nicholas Spark book.
It all starts with the letters, addressed to every boy she has ever loved. There is no need to commend the plot because most rom-coms have that nailed down now, but what I will commend is Lara Jean herself. In an age where young girls are acting beyond their years, this film reminds us that acting your age still brings all that life has to offer. Lara Jean herself realises her letters are lame but being 16 is just that, you are 16 and your emotional instability is not warranted by self control and it shouldn’t consider what others think, surely that comes later in adult life? Whilst there is the tragic backdrop of Lara Jean’s mum passing away, the screenwriter Sofia Alvarez clearly didn’t lose faith by casting a classically unaware father and the intervening little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart)- both of whom substitute the sadness for comedic relief.
The crucial impact of character development
The film’s beginning portrays the awkward reality of having your sister date your best friend. Josh (Israel Broussard), is a likeable character and effortlessly combines with Pretty Little Liars actress Janel Parish; who plays Margot – a kind, maternal figure in the household. Skimming to Lara Jean’s quiet and unnoticed reputation at high school, her best friend Chris, played by Madeleine Arthur, is a rather bland character, whilst she brings an edge to her dress sense and adds a ‘bad girl’ reputation to the film, critically speaking, she is useless for the plot of the film- she is simply just Lara Jean’s best friend. Gen, on the other hand, epitomises the ‘pretty popular girl’ every rom-com needs but doesn’t possess any complex dimensions which honestly, would have been an improvement- other than that, her only purpose is intervening in Lara Jean’s happiness. Despite these criticisms, the film does show the phenomenon that are the ‘unwritten rules of the girl code’ which unfortunately exist even in the real world but that is just another reason for not being able to help laughing at the stupidity of teenage girl drama.
Peter (Noah Centineo), is definitely easy on the eye but whilst it isn’t hard to cast a handsome, hunky male, he nevertheless has still sparked an uproar with the teenage girls. Whether it be his previous casting in tv show The Fosters or his already credible social media following, he is a great actor. His emotional connection with Lana Condor on screen is noteworthy but having watched press interviews for the film, their off screen chemistry is present too, which honestly, makes their romance in the film all the more likeable and is probably why it has received so much attention by the media.
Firstly written as a novel by Jenny Han, the film’s script is still undeniably witty and interesting but there are some cliche pitfalls which do let the film down, such as the aftermath of the ski trip or casting characters who share no relevance to the main storyline but simply act as a secondary commentary to the plot such as Josh’s character. Similarly, I wanted to see more written romance between Lara Jean and Peter; their existence, truth and sensibility simply ends and although the audience is gripped by their characters, the viewer is undoubtedly left wanting more from them.
Set in the 21st century, the ending to the film resembles the past time of the iconic 80s film The Breakfast Club, slowly panning out from the football pitch, with the new loved up couple still in sight – all that’s needed is a fist pump and some Simple Minds in the background and it will be uncanny. But without truly thinking about it, the film leaves you with the catharsis of growing up, the boys you thought you loved and the regret of not writing it all down.
Words by Polly Dale