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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Review: Fall in Love with Netflix’s Latest Movie

To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Photo Credit: Netflix

What makes for a good romantic comedy? Do we need a charismatic couple at its center? Does it need to sidestep the clichés that define the genre? Should a screenwriter try to impart some new insights into how modern relationships work? Maybe… but the latest Netflix original movie might just prove that all it takes is a warm, genuine, and enthusiastic heart.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is part of a rare breed in Hollywood – a romantic comedy that’s completely free of cynicism, quietly progressive, and wholly entertaining. While it may not totally reinvent the wheel, it is a very good example of a genre where new entries are becoming far too infrequent.

Based on Jenny Ha’s YA novel of the same name, this adorable new film follows the impossibly shy Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a junior who quietly walks through the hallways of her high school, hoping to go unnoticed by her peers. But her shyness hasn’t stopped her from falling madly in love with some of her classmates – in fact, she’s had five serious crushes in her life. And when her emotions become too much to handle, she has a system: she writes all her feelings down in a letter, and then tucks the letter away in her closet until the feelings pass.

Things become complicated, however, when these letters somehow make their way into the hands of their subjects. And, while this would be intensely embarrassing under normal circumstances, the subject of her latest letter is Josh (Israel Broussard), her next-door neighbor, and the ex-boyfriend of Lara’s college bound sister (Janel Parrish).

There is a solution, however – and it’s a plot device as old as time. As it would happen, Peter (Noah Centineo)– Lara Jean’s middle school crush – was recently dumped, and is hoping to make his ex jealous. Meanwhile, Lara Jean wants to prove that she’s not interested in her sister’s ex. So, the two join forces, creating a fake relationship that will, inevitably, lead to genuine romantic feelings. Let’s be clear: there isn’t anything groundbreaking about this story. But this story is told so earnestly, and with such a clear affection for its character, it becomes difficult not to love.

For one thing, Lana Condor – best known for her dialogue-free appearance as Jubilee in the last X-Men film – is a bona fide movie star. This film wouldn’t work if we didn’t root for Lara Jean, and Condor wins us over within seconds of walking onscreen. She also has electric chemistry with both her male costars – though this is Centineo’s show, and he jumps at every chance he gets to become a Hollywood heart throb.

While his character’s motivations are, initially, incredibly off-putting, he never lets the audience hate him. Most importantly, the development of Peter’s relationship with Lara Jean feels totally believable and genuine, where it should feel forced and dictated by tired plot devices. This is entirely because of the two leads – hopefully we’ll see more of them in the future, either on Netflix or on the big screen.

But the film also succeeds because of how effortlessly it pulls off the tiny, sweet scenes that make a romantic comedy memorable. Lara Jean’s relationship with her younger sister Kitty, played by scene-stealer Anna Cathcart, is fun and sweet, with cute moments that stop just short of being cheesy. There is also an entertaining takedown of the racist humor found in Sixteen Candles, endearing motifs about food, and yet another example of one of Hollywood’s fastest growing trends: heart-warming speeches from caring parents, courtesy of a solid John Corbett. Put simply, Too All the Boys I Loved Before hits all the right notes.

But if the film has a flaw, it’s in the way it wastes many interesting supporting characters, a majority of which are not given the material necessary to make them full-fledged characters. Lara Jean’s best friend, for example, is a Stevie Nicks-esque hipster who has some good lines, but actress Madeline Arthur is given so little screen time that her character feels like an afterthought. Similarly, Lara Jean befriends one of her old crushes (Trezzo Mahoro), who has since come out as gay. This is a fascinating subplot, but it’s over before it even really starts.

Even with these hiccups, however, there’s just something infectious about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s so well intentioned, sweet, and good-natured, that hating it doesn’t even feel like an option. But, when you consider the strong central performances and fun screenplay, it becomes more than just a passable diversion. This is a well-made movie that also happens to be a complete joy. Throw in some gorgeous cinematography and a soundtrack filled with earworms and you have yourself a romantic popcorn movie you can enjoy, on repeat, from the comfort of your own couch.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is now streaming on Netflix.

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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