This week, Netflix released its newest Young Adult Rom-Com – ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ based on the novel by Jenny Han. In a film genre which is saturated with predictable plot lines, it’s commendable that this has a unique starting premise. But it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s a pretty ordinary film, filled with one too many clichés and stereotypes which we’ve been served up before.
We meet Lara Jean, a high school student, who has a non-existent love life yet reads extensively about love and romance in novels. To all the guys she’s ever had an all-consuming crush on, she writes these letters for her eyes only. Well that is until the letters are mysteriously posted to said crushes.
It starts off promisingly with a beautifully shot dream sequence and a portrayal of a hopeless romantic with wild fantasies of being in love. But the rest of the film is ultimately let down by the grating dialogue:
Lucas: I feel like I should tell you though, you know I’m gay right?
Lara Jean: Yes of course, I did, I did
Lucas: But don’t like tell anyone though, I’m open and not ashamed my mum knows, my dad kinda knows it’s just –
Lucas and Lara Jean in unison: high-school
As we’ve seen before in Rom-Coms from Grease to High School Musical, the popular guy takes an interest in the less popular girl. The plot to get us here is somewhat contrived but when it is finally set up, we see this girl who once felt invisible start to come out of her shell.
Lara Jean played by Asian American actress, Lana Condor exudes innocence and pulls off playing this sweet and shy girl well. Her main love interest, Peter Kavinsky is played by Noah Centineo. He is suited to the role of the popular guy who is more sensitive and charming than we first assume. There’s a youthful chemistry between the two leads which is at times endearing to see.
Although the film goes someway to develop these two central characters, the rest are seemingly written as one-dimensional. There’s the annoying little sister and older sister who she looks up to. We have the bully who is of course nothing but unkind and has a relentless grip on the guy Lara Jean likes. Also, the gay best friend who only appears to give Lara Jean well-timed dating advice. Oh, and the edgy best friend who says pointless quirky things and gives moral support to her friend occasionally.
There were a few poignant moments where I found myself warming to Lara Jean. In the local diner, for example, she starts to open up to Peter Kavinsky as to why she fantasises so much about romance yet has never been in a relationship. But for the most part, there were eye-roll inducing plot twists which just made me want to fast forward to what would be quite a predictable end.
The film’s soundtrack sets the mood for the teen film surprisingly well and I can’t fault the cinematography but overall it felt flat due to the writing. Viewing is alright for a lazy summer’s day when there’s nothing else to do, but overall I would give it a pass.