‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ revives, refreshes the high school romance genre

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

A girl’s private love letters, written to former crushes, are suddenly sent out to the boys they’re addressed to, revealing her past feelings all at once. The girl in question is Lara Jean Covey, the protagonist of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” Anyone who has experienced an intense crush worthy of a love letter will be captivated and completely committed to watching Lara Jean navigate these waters as the plot of the film unfolds. What follows is a heartwarming and charming film about teenage love and family that revitalizes and refreshes traditional rom-com tropes.

Based off of the best-selling novel of the same name by Jenny Han, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” sees Lara Jean (Lana Condor) deal with the aftermath of her private love letters being sent out. There are five letters in total, including one addressed to the boy next door, Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard), who also happens to be her sister’s boyfriend. In order to cover up her feelings for Josh, Lara Jean agrees to pretend to be in a relationship with Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), another receiver of a past love letter, who wants to make his ex-girlfriend jealous.

The plot is full of well-known romantic comedy and teen tropes, from the fake-turned-real relationship to the pairing of a jock with a brainiac. Instead of feeling trite, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” directed by Susan Johnson and written by Sofia Alvarez, uses tradition to its advantage and adds new layers of complexity that make those old tropes all the more interesting.

To begin with, the lead of the film is an Asian-American teenage girl, which is a noticeable change from the long list of teen rom-coms, including the ones that Lara Jean references throughout the film (e.g. John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles”), led by white stars. Instead, with Lara Jean, many viewers get to root for a heroine who looks like them. It is a diversity completely new to the teen rom-com and a step in the right direction toward accurate representation in media. And, as refreshing as it is to see a person of color play the romantic lead in a film, Lara Jean is in no way defined by this.

The film’s plot has nothing to do with her ethnicity, but, instead, is about a girl, who happens to be Asian, navigating her life as a teenager. Lara Jean is intricately layered. She is a caring and gracious person, with an affinity for romance stories and a tendency to live out fantasies in her head. She is the essence of the rom-com heroine that everybody wants to root for: humble yet confident, charming and wholly relatable. Candor expertly takes on this role, exerting each of Lara Jean’s qualities through careful line delivery and cogent facial expressions that express not only what Lara Jean is saying, but also what she is feeling.

Lara Jean’s love interest, Peter, is just as much a complex character. Miles away from the stereotypical jock, Peter is thoughtful, attentive and kind. He continuously makes moves outside of expectations — of both Lara Jean’s and the viewer’s — from offering to write her daily love notes to opening up to Lara Jean about his father abandoning him. Centineo also fully encapsulates all layers of this character. Stepping into Peter, he is entirely charming and alluring. He often doesn’t need to say anything at all to be just as expressive as when he is delivering dialogue; the way he looks at Lara Jean expresses all emotions, starting with curiosity and evolving into genuine affection.

Candor and Centineo’s chemistry is electric and utterly enthralling to witness. It’s showcased aptly through each of their scenes together. From negotiating the terms of their fake relationship to opening up to each other about their relative experiences losing a parent, the scenes are never rushed. The pacing is slowed down — but not slow-moving — giving time for viewers to truly become immersed in the developing relationship between Lara Jean and Peter.

In between the effectively played out romance of the two leads, the plot is even more intricate, including themes of family and personal growth. All of these intricacies seamlessly fit together to make this mesmerizing film. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is everything a rom-com sets out to be, while simultaneously looking into the future to show what the genre may soon become: more complex, more diverse and even more heartwarming.

Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].