By Samantha Cooper
Romantic comedies are known for their light-hearted, endearing plots that leave viewers with smiles on their faces and piles of tear-soaked tissues around them. These films can easily fall victim to being corny and predictable, but Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a perfect execution of the classic, albeit well-worn, genre.
Based on Jenny Han’s 2014 novel of the same name, the film follows Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a shy teenager who writes a love letter every time she has a crush on a boy — five in total. Lara Jean never intends to send these letters; she keeps them in the back of her closet in a hatbox that her late mother gave to her. But naturally, they don’t stay there: Lara Jean’s younger sister, Kitty, discovers the letters and mails them to their (un)rightful owners.
One of the letters is addressed to heartthrob Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), who asks to fabricate a relationship with Lara Jean in the hopes of making his ex-girlfriend jealous. Lara Jean agrees, as she hopes it will convince Josh, her older sister’s ex-boyfriend and another love letter recipient, that she is not actually in love with him.
In typical rom-com fashion, what starts out as a platonic relationship between Lara Jean and Peter turns into a budding romance as the two end up catching feelings for one another.
What To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before lacks in originality, it makes up for in introducing diversity to an otherwise whitewashed genre. The film has been receiving a lot of attention, and rightly so, for not succumbing to usual Hollywood typecasting.
The film centers on an Asian-American protagonist, an effort that endured some significant backlash. Author Jenny Han wrote in The New York Times that only one production company was willing to cast an Asian-American actress in the lead role.
Non-white actors are often typecast into roles where racial stereotypes dominate their performance, but in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, little attention is brought to the fact that Lara Jean is an Asian-American heroine — and it works in the film’s favor.
By keeping the film simple and straightforward instead of emphasizing the nuanced casting choices, viewers are able to appreciate the regularity of having an Asian-American lead in a rom-com. Yes, Lara Jean comes from an interracial family, but she is so much more than that. She’s the sweet, quirky, socially awkward teen that all viewers can identify with, no matter who they are.
For those who are used to seeing their own race represented on the big screen, this aspect of the film can be easily overlooked, but it is important to note just how influential racial representation is on the big screen. Casting Condor in the leading role allows a widespread audience to connect with and relate to the movie, as well as feel more appreciated and understood in the outside world.
Although the movie is somewhat cheesy and predictable, it’s the simplicity that makes To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before a sweet, feel-good movie. Unlike many rom-coms today that try too hard to be different, this film takes viewers back to the candid love stories they fell in love with thanks to classics like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail.
Romantic comedies are not typically meant to provoke thought or change the audience’s views of the world around them, they are meant to be a feel-good suspension of reality. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before somehow manages to accomplish both, and did not disappoint in either area.