Confusion, Courtship and Condoms

CJ Priebe


Don’t you hate it when your younger sister mails your love letters to a slew of your past and current crushes?

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is based on Jenny Han’s 2014 book of the same name, covering many of the foundational structures of young love within young adult novels: confusion, courtship, conditions and condoms.

Netflix’s new romantic comedy nails a bevy of issues that other teenage rom-coms fail to grasp about growing up, friendship and romance.

Most importantly, it understands how to make these situations relatable and realistic.

Particularly, it gets the chemistry between the two lovebirds spot on.

Most of the credit deserves to go to Han for knitting together a realistic world, with some praise left over for director Susan Johnson and the largely unknown cast.

Lead actress Lana Condor sparkles as she deals with the fallout of from a postal mishap which sends her love life spiralling. She goes from ogling the idea of love from afar to being foist right into its midst.

Apparently, the other lead actor, Noah Centineo, doesn’t want you to follow him on Twitter. And apparently it’s too late, because most of you already are. (Yes, he is very cute.)

Below is a list of what the film gets right about its young, lovestruck audience:

1. Realistic Relationships Can Be Entertaining Too.

Movies constantly instill stupid ideas like this into our heads. They keep us fixated on romantic conventions that often don’t play out the same way in the real world.

If you see an attractive person in a film, odds are you will soon spot that person’s counterweight — another person of the same race and of similar attractive measurements — who will remain linked to that original person throughout the film.

Rarely do you see that in-between phase of love, that “does-he-like-me, do-I-like-him.” And that’s what we all want, something that keeps an audience locked in with uncertainty and anticipation.

The different characters feel like they’re actually friends with each other, like they don’t vanish as soon as the director stops the camera.

In this movie, relationships are paramount. They’re complex, at least for a rom-com, and that’s a huge part of why it succeeds.

2. Race Matters (If You Let It).

The film depicts Lara Jean Song Covey, one of three young Korean-American sisters whose Caucasian father struggles while making Korean food. We get it, it tastes like butt. But race jokes do not make this a comedy.

There are a few instances of Lara Jean’s multiracial heritage popping up, but it doesn’t drive the plot in a substantial way.

However, race did play a part in who this character is, why she does what she does and what she means to the viewing public at large.

In Teen Vogue, Han talked about her doubts, stressing the importance of casting: “I think that one of the biggest struggles with it was to find the right partners who would agree to cast an Asian-American family, and to have Lara Jean, specifically, be Asian.”

3. Location Doesn’t Matter, Unless You Want It To.

There are two aerial shots of Lara Jean’s hometown. It never matters again.

Not only can this stand in for almost any run-of-the-mill mid-tier city, it also means we don’t have to sit by and watch some localized fandom play a major role like when Vince Vaughn talked about the Cubs for 105 minutes in “The Break Up.” I highly don’t recommend that movie.

4. Stakes Don’t Have to Be at Everest Level.

The sisters have been raised by their father after their mother’s death years ago.

The mother’s death is not all-encompassing, yet imbues a sense of deep meaning into the plot. It becomes a way for the two lead characters to relate to each other, but it is not viewed as some tragedy.

Later in the film, Lara Jean is embarrassed by video footage of herself kissing a boy. She calls it a porno and “freaks out,” but the issue gets simply bypassed by her knowledgeable older sis. It’s not a big deal.

You don’t need to have the lead character screw over their sibling/best friend/talking pet to stick a twist of the plot. The way Lara Jean deals with the question of whether to break her older sister’s trust throughout the movie never wavers.

They always manage to work out their problems with dignity and without resorting to extreme measures.

Speaking of…

5. Family Is a Team.

Your family is not plotting against you. Well, not most of the time.

Throughout the film, the sisters stand united. This could explain where Lara Jean gets some of her confidence despite her naturally introverted nature.

It is refreshing to see what often is shown as jealousy take the place of true teamwork that defines being someone’s sibling.

At its worst, the most violent it gets between them is when Lara Jean wields a stuffed unicorn on a stick and needs to be restrained.

“Look,” begins one her sisters, “Her logic was off, but her heart was in the right place.” Which gives way for a quote-of-the-year candidate from Lara Jean, “Her face is gonna be in the wrong place!”