There are a select list of movies that I have, and will, watch more than twice. Most of these movies I’ve fallen in love with at first watch, and watch them when I’m in need of comfort. Very rarely do I watch these movies back to back. So why have I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before four times since it was released?
When I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I could barely contain my excitement. I'm a sucker for a good YA rom-com and it was made even better by it being the first YA rom-com with an Asian protagonist. As soon as it was released I was gunning to watch it, and so last Saturday night I stayed up way too late to have my first watch. Then I watched it every day after that. And somehow, it got better with every viewing.
If you haven’t seen it (why???), TATBILB is about Lara Jean Covey, a 16 year old Korean-American girl who is in love with love. She obsessively reads “bodice-ripper” romance novels and writes love letters to her most intense of crushes. When these letters find their way to their recipients, Lara Jean must leave her fantasy world of love and dating, and face the very real and difficult world of love and dating head on.
Lara Jean is pretty much a typical YA protagonist. She's not super popular, she's shy and her style is "quirky". But she is also has a bold and bright personality that exists outside of her love story. At one point in the film, when she's having a feel-good moment with her dad he mentions that she's always been open and fun with her family, making it clear that it's not her finding love that makes her who she is; instead the romantic love in her life allows her to open up and show more people her wonderful and hilarious personality.
Furthermore, Lara Jean has a clear understanding of what she wants and, if she's feeling bold enough, has the words to articulate it. Though she’s new to the dating scene, she has a clear understanding of her own boundaries and is open about it. When she muses about why she writes love letters she doesn't send, she mentions how it helps her understand her feelings and deal with the intensity of them. It feels really new and groundbreaking to have a young female character who doesn't invalidate the intensity of her own feelings, instead embraces them.
The complex and multi-faceted Lara Jean is played by Lana Condor who was amazing in the role. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an expressive face! One of the hard parts of transforming novels into films is that without the assistance of lengthy narration, we often miss out on a lot of the protagonist’s inner dialogue. While this film had its fair share of narration, there was so much story in Lara Jean's face alone. In one scene, she's concerned that she might have pushed Peter (love interest extraordinaire) away, you see her go through a whole set of emotions before sending him a silly text to test the waters. The slight shoulder shrugs, judgey pursing of the lips, eye twitches are all part of Lara Jean's personality and ways for her to express herself when she isn't feeling bold enough to say things out loud. Lana Condor's ability to add that extra dimension to a character is just insane.
And then there's the love story! One of the first things I thought about was that Peter Kavinsky is the healthy rom-com crush we’ve needed for so long. Peter isn’t perfect, but he is kind, he is courageous and most of all, he genuinely cares for Lara Jean from the beginning, even when he's trying to reject her love letter. In most love stories like theirs, it takes a long time before our male romantic lead stops acting like an asshole and loves the female romantic lead for who she is. From the very beginning Peter never sees Lara Jean as not being worthy of their (fake) relationship because she’s not as popular as he is. In fact he’s the one who sees dating her as a benefit, and never once acts as if he is ashamed of her. It shouldn't be a big deal to have this kind of male romantic lead, but in a world where we still think detached and uncaring guys could love, it's almost revolutionary.
I obviously have quite a lot of feelings about this movie but I'm running late and honestly, just watch it for yourself. Even if you don't feel as passionately about it as I do, it will make you feel super good.