REVIEW: To All The Boys I've Ever Loved is a Decent, yet Conventional Teen Rom-Com
Solid teen rom-coms are few and far between. While Netflix’s newest film doesn’t do anything exciting with the genre, it is still a passable addition. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before - directed by Susan Johnson and written by Sofia Alvarez - has just enough charm and visual appeal to outweigh its clichés and weak comedic attempts.
The movie follows 16-year-old Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a hopeless romantic that spends more time reading and fantasizing about romance than living it. When her younger sister mails the 5 love letters Lara Jean had previously written about various crushes, Lara Jean must finally confront her feelings for these boys. However, in order to not shown interest in her sister Margot’s ex, Josh (Israel Broussard), Lara Jean pretends to date Peter (Noah Centineo), who in turn is trying to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. But, things get messy when Lara Jean and Peter start to actually develop feelings for each other.
The film is able to breath some fresh air into the fake-dating trope largely due to its charming lead character and engaging direction. Lana Condor’s Lara Jean is both sympathetic and relatable without ever being flawless. Her friendships and familial relationships are sweet and her need to escape into romantic fiction and letter-writing instead of confronting her feelings is endearing.
The high-school dynamics of hierarchies, parties and gossip are portrayed pretty conventionally, but the self-aware use of social media gives the movie just enough of a modern twist to avoid being overly repetitive. While Lara Jean and Peter’s attraction isn’t as fully realized as it should have been, they do have some cute moments. From Peter’s letter writing and yogurt pursuit to the more personal conversations about their families, Lara Jean and Peter have enough going for them to make viewers care. They could have used some more banter though.
Despite rom-coms not being especially known for their artistic merit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before displays some wonderful cinematography and art direction. The color grading, shot composition, and production design gives the movie a visually striking look that separates it from a lot of its peers. On top of that, director Susan Johnson is able to keep the film engaging by mixing voice-over and flashbacks to handle the exposition as well as can be.
The movie is far from perfect though. A lot of jokes fell flat and the humor often felt forced. Lara Jean's little sister comes off more annoying than adorable and while the fake-dating trope usually leads to interesting situations, very few amusing events actually occur. Another detractor would be the film’s tendency to meander. Things would just happen without much fleshing out.
To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved doesn’t hit all the marks but still has enough going for it. The film’s endearing protagonist, solid visuals and charming interactions are strong enough to overcome its narrative and comedic shortcomings.