*may contain spoilers*
Like many people on the internet, I have not been blind to the release of the Netflix teen rom-com movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB for short) directed by Susan Johnson and based on the book by Jenny Han. As a recent graduate of an English Literature degree and soon to be Masters student, I generally consume very different literature to YA novels or those which may be assigned ‘chick-lit’ (my many issues with this designation I will maybe write about another day). Therefore, as I was so busy reading *proper literature /classical literature/ the literary canon* (note reader- I am being sarcastic here, in case that does not come across well online) whatever you want to call it, I have never come across this book beforehand. From what I had seen on Twitter, the film centered on a young high-schooler and the letters she sent to the boys she liked.
Also, Peter Kravinsky – see GIF.
When this first started to pop up on my timeline, I paid it absolutely no mind. I figured it was a teen movie like the thousands that had come before and I was not interested. It was only when I got a stomach bug in Turkey which meant I was off work for a day that I decided to watch the movie. There I am, sitting home alone, feeling like crap and a little bit sorry for myself, and suddenly (what I had thought of as) a silly teen movie didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
To be brutally honest, I probably wouldn’t have even considered watching the movie if it hadn’t been for Lana Condor, who plays Lara Jean, the lead role. It is incredibly rare for Asians to play the lead role in any type of Western mainstream media, let alone a rom-com like this. So that, and that the director was a woman, piqued my interest. Jenny Han, the books’ author, wrote Lara Jean as half Korean and half White, which the many studios who were interested in the book wanted to change so that she was only white. The fact that only one of the many agreed to keep her Asian heritage (the studio the movie was made by) is one tiny example of how the few movies which are made and have POC as characters in them are often whitewashed. (See Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange for other examples). Maybe this wouldn’t be like every other rom-com where the guy is pretty crap and the girl is really hot but doesn’t know it and the school friends have toxic attitudes and are mainly white except that one black friend who has two lines.
The cynic in me went into the movie very biased; however I was absolutely swept away with the joy, worry, hope and confusion of Lara Jean.
Shortly after finishing the movie I tweeted:
At home and sick, go to watch To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before with a very cynical attitude to a teen rom com and good god if I am not suddenly 16 again and hoping Peter Kravinsky will write me notes 😭
— summer (@Summer_s_) August 31, 2018
“At home and sick, go to watch To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before with a very cynical attitude to a teen rom com and good god if I am not suddenly 16 again and hoping Peter Kravinsky will write me notes”
Tried as I might, I also couldn’t help myself falling for the hunk of the story – Peter Kravinsky, played by Noah Centineo- and I will not be surprised if that boy/man (he is 22 in real life) continues to make teenagers and adults who are attracted to men swoon for years. He wasn’t perfect, but he stood up for Lara, respected her boundaries and behaved overall quite well for a 16 year old in a fake relationship. On reflection, this isn’t exactly a list of qualities which make for a dream man, but for so long, movies like this have had toxic leading men or boys who have gotten away with treating the girl like rubbish and still ‘got the girl’ – Danny Zuko in Grease and Austin in A Cinderella Story spring to mind. The movie isn’t perfect, what movie is? The characters look nothing like real 16 years olds do (Lara Jean and Peter Kravinsky are played by a 21 and a 22 year old, respectively) and what kind of school ski trips have a hot tub and seemingly no teacher supervision?? These are small critiques however, and the age of the actors cast is one that seems a pervasive trend in Hollywood that is not going to stop anytime soon.
The representation of Lara’s family was lovely, it was really nice seeing an Asian mixed race family and three sisters who all loved each other, but all were allowed their own complexities somewhat (allowing that this movie is just over an hour and a half). I absolutely loved Kitty and Christine was fun as the cool, quirky friend. I did love her interaction with Lara’s dad a LOT though, it had me cracking up by myself on the sofa.
Christine: I’m not denying you your right to put food on the table for your family. I’m saying I just think it’s a little odd that a man would want to become a gynaecologist. Like, when you were in college, you thought “Ahh, I’d really love to look at vaginas all day”.
Lara Jean’s father: Gonna leave the kitchen now, Christine.
TATBILB was a fun, emotional teen movie, which isn’t wildly different to its predecessors, however in many smaller ways it is a much more satisfying watch. I related very hard to the confusion of being 16 and the fear surroundings boys and school and sexuality. It wasn’t even that long ago for me and I still forget what it is like for younger people. Watching this movie had me hugging a pillow screaming “yassssssss!” when good things happened for Lara Jean and “ohgodthankfuckImnotateenageranymore” when things went badly. Peter is a crush-worthy lead, Lara Jean is a fantastic and strong willed heroine who I am glad that young girls, and in particular, young Asian girls, will be able to look up to. It passes the Bechdel test very quickly, which still, in 2018, so many movies do not! Sadly, this made it automatically better than a lot of other shows and movies I’ve watched this year.
If you, like me, don’t really consider yourself the target audience of a teenage rom-com, maybe give it a watch. Sometimes it can feel like if we aren’t consuming movies or books from the literary canon or the classic list of respected movies, or just ‘adult’ movies, that we are wasting our time or consuming cheesy filler. I know I sometimes feel that way if I stop reading Virginia Woolf or William Golding for a minute to peruse Cosmo. Having allowed myself to enjoy something I would have considered a cheesy teen movie, I do not regret it for one instance and will proudly moon about for the rest of the
week day, imagining Peter Kravinsky pulling up outside in his cool car, to whisk me away in his lovely arms to a world of better teen rom-coms.