A fresh coming-of-age tale that tries to pay homage to Sixteen Candles, but is instead a worthy complementary film.
Like many of Netfix's best exports, To All the Boys I've Loved Before has failed to register much of a notice in the weeks leading up to its premiere on the platform. The unfortunate lack of promotion may keep this from becoming the hit it should become, or maybe word-of-mouth will grow enough into giving this delight a rightful place among the streaming giant's most worthy of phenomenons. Dressing itself as a teenage comedy, To All the Boys is actually a slice-of-life spectacle about why we want the things we want. It does for the coming-of-age drama what John Hughes's classics did in30 years ago. It delivers honest characters that have something interesting to say, instead of horny tropes of characters thrown on screen to earn a buck or two.
Based on the bestseller with the same name by Jenny Han, the film focuses on Lara Jean (Lana Condor), an eleventh grader whose angst is heightened after secret love letters she wrote years earlier get passed around to the subjects of the letters. What follows is a classic havoc-wreaking mess of adrenaline-fueled embarrassments and heartfelt, earnest attempts at glory. Navigating the perils of the high school social hierarchy is hard enough, but doing it while under the microscope of your peers is deadly.
Instead of taking an introverted, shy approach to possibly fixing her problems, Lara Jean (who goes by both names at all times) buddies up with the school's hunk, Peter (Noah Centineo). Together, they each plan to use the other's attention to make their crushes jealous. She is inclined to pine after Josh (Israel Broussard), a newly single boy-next-door, literally and figuratively. Peter is hoping to win back Gen (Emilija Baranac), a bitch of a popular girl. What starts as a clever, simple, and innocent plan, turns to mayhem after word spreads and the expectations of a 'relationship', even a fake one, weigh on both Lara Jean and Peter. It also doesn't help that Lara Jean's crush, Josh, is actually her sister's ex-boyfriend. Yeah, high school and adolescent feelings are cruel.
What works best about this film is the fresh delivery found in the screenplay. The words spoken by each character feel and sound so earnest. There's nothing overtly tied to today's vernacular that will exclude anyone watching, but the way they each speak and carry themselves feels of-the-times and honest. It also helps that the cast is made up seemingly noteworthy talent, with leading lady Condor really shining. She's funny and charming, but still edgy and mysterious. She feels as if she could be Lara Jean in real life, which isn't a bad thought since our main character is such a winner. She's easy to root for, which also may be another strength of the film.
Susan Johnson, the film's director, has mastered an artistic technique of presenting the wreckage of teenagedom, but not forgetting this is still a film. With clever production design and beautiful filming locations, each frame is interesting to take in and behold. The colors are rich and truly set a tone, something many filmmakers, especially those making 'popular' films, forget.
Despite being a Netflix release, there's definitely something cinematic about To All the Boys I've Loved Before. The stakes are high enough to keep you engaged. The characters are charming and enjoyable. You'll instantly want another chapter in the story, especially one that involved Lara Jean's sisters, Margot and Kitty (Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart, respectively).
There are a few throwback, nostalgic moments that work to shine a light on the typical teenage dramas of yesteryear, but given the right amount of time, To All the Boys should age well enough to live somewhere in between The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Sixteen Candles on lists of coming-of-age classics.