Director: Susan Johnson
Starring: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Israel Broussard
Take cover! It’s a NETFLIX FLICK!
Adapted from the YA novel of the same name, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before serves up the adolescent underdog love story we’ve all come to know and love (well…most of us, anyway). The always-attractive cast, the great looking houses, sleepy picturesque towns, the bleachers – it’s all here and more as Susan Johnson serves up a modern blast of teenage romance. There’s even a cool looking roadside café as well – we’ve been spoilt.
Sixteen-years-old and frightened of love and relationships, Lara Jean Covey (Condor) sure can fantasize about them, writing love letters and addressing to her five crushes – but never sending the letters, leaving her dreams unsaid and kept in a box in her room. When her younger sister Kitty (Cathcart) sends the letters in an attempt to add some spice to Lara’s life, her former crushes soon come asking questions – including her sister Margot’s (Parrish) recently jilted ex-boyfriend Josh and seventh-grade crush Peter Kavinsky (Centineo).
In my advancing years (…), I have grown quite fond of these movies – when they’re done well, of course. The teen romances and the coming of age stories, they have something engaging about them (possibly that all the kids in them have far better looking teenage years than I had!) but they are also extremely vulnerable to uber-clichés and sickly sweet narratives/endings. Thankfully, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before manages to eschew these perils by simply embracing the issues and creating a charming, cozy movie out of them. For the vast majority, it’s very much by-numbers, but the ace chemistry of the two leads and the genuine warmth the story and cast exude make this a great movie to curl up to on an autumn night, enjoy and smile along with– which is just what I did.
With a nice blend of wit, snark, and vulnerability, Lana Condor delivers a great performance as she struggles with life, love and Jacuzzi not-quite-sex-tapes. These roles can often fall into parody or OTT-hipsterness, however, Condor knows just when to rein it in and when to let it all out. Similarly, chiseled hunk Noah Centineo is just what you want as the male counterpart – not flimsy, but seemingly decent and not a jerk. Their chemistry is excellent – whether just staring at each other, watching Sixteen Candles, Instagramming each other or just simply having a chat, there’s a believable bond there. The edgy BFF makes an appearance (Madeleine Arthur), as does the hot ex-girlfriend (Emilija Baranac) and the caring, slicker-than-most Dad (John Corbett) – the tropes aren’t subtle. Apparently, there were issues with the casting as Condor is Korean-American and Parrish is Chinese-American – why that would be an issue is for racist producers to answer because the pair are great and it’s nice to see something other than whitewashing.
As mentioned, the story follows similar beats to most other movies of the genre – not to a T, but you’ll see what’s coming from a mile away. The cast sell their roles so well - that you believe in them and want them to succeed or fail helps to overlook the narrative conventions, and the writing itself is of a very decent standard. There’s an attempt at misdirection throughout, but we can see through it, Johnson! A cool, indie soundtrack accompanies most scenes and everywhere looks like somewhere I’d like to be – especially the ski trip and the gorgeous looking jacuzzi area.
Love letters, using each other as a pillow, lacrosse field revelations, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is stacked full of things that teenage boys better start swotting up on – because they may be expected to duplicate the efforts of this movie! With great lead performances, some good comedy and heart (and far from falling into cliché) this is a charming and happily sweet movie that should warm your autumn nights.
September 12th 2018