THE STORY – A teenage girl’s secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life.
THE CAST – Lana Condor, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Noah Centineo, Israel Broussard & John Corbett
THE TEAM – Susan Johnson (Director) & Sofia Alvarez (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
By Beatrice Loayza
With her second feature film, “To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved,” director Susan Johnson delivers a heart-warming and carefully executed rendering of the popular young adult romance novel of the same name by Jenny Han. A Netflix production, “To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved” marks another success in the genre for the entertainment behemoth following the positive reception of “Set It Up” released back in June of this year.
Shy, intelligent, and slightly neurotic – high school junior Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) has never had a boyfriend. That’s not to say she’s never dreamed of it. In fact, Lara Jean remembers every single intense crush she’s ever had – five mostly unsuspecting boys that date back to the 5th grade. As a rite of passion, Lara Jean keeps confessional letters she’s written to each of her crushes in a secret box where she expects they’ll remain hidden and untouched for the rest of time – that is until younger sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), intervenes.
When her illicit crush on older sister Margot’s (Janel Parrish) ex-boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard), threatens to come to light, Lara Jean teams up with Peter (Noah Centineo), a former crush and ex-boyfriend of evil ex-best friend Gen (Emilija Baranac), and agrees to a fake relationship that will remove suspicion from her true feelings for Josh and entice a jealous Gen back into Peter’s arms. Having a fake boyfriend is easy, but when the lines between real and pretend begin to blur, Lara Jean must negotiate her desires with her conflicting self-perception.
A high school “nobody” anachronistically paired with a popular jock, a token mean girl hell-bent on ruining the protagonist’s reputation, a gossip-fueled climax – “To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved” isn’t exactly what you’d call revolutionary considering its disinterest in innovating or in deconstructing these classic rom-com tropes. Nevertheless, its thoughtful elaboration of these tropes, paired with a wholesome and deeply innocent sensibility that makes this film such a pleasure to watch. Add to this the seemingly small tweak of casting an Asian-American female in the leading role, and Lara Jean’s story – her identity, her desires and fears, her family relationships – easily acquire a dimension unseen in teen romance movies of this kind.
Johnson doesn’t shake up expectations so much as she delivers within the trappings of the genre a product that, while light-hearted and simple, never insults the intelligence of the audience or its characters for that matter. With a tight narrative, two irresistibly charming leads (Condor and Centineo), and a well-paced, sincere, and often very funny script, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” joins the ranks of “Paddington 2” and “Love, Simon” as one of 2018’s purest films and an exemplar of good filmmaking with a heart of gold.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Charming leads and careful execution deliver a wholesome tale of teenage romance.