*This post is not spoiler free*
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I’ve been aware of for years due to passionate fanbase it holds. However, it was never a series that I felt I would enjoy as I had moved on from YA contemporaries and thrown myself into fantasy. When the news came out of a movie adaptation, I covered the announcement and found myself swayed by the fact that Janel Parrish (well known for her role in Pretty Little Liars) was in the cast line-up. I indulged in the entire trilogy via audiobook and never looked back. I was completely hooked.
The newest addition to Netflix’s roster of teen rom com films, the story follows Lara Jean who write loves letters as a way to close the chapter on previous crushes. She never sends them but one day these secret declarations of love find their way into the hands of the boys – including the popular kid, Peter Kavinsky. This charming Lacrosse player sees Lara as an opportunity to engage in a bit of fake dating in an attempt to make his ex jealous and win her back.
To focus briefly on the stylistic aspects (this is the part where I pretend I know what I’m talking about), the film just looks good: I love the colour palette and the shots worked where needed and I don’t know who was in charge of styling Lara Jean’s outfits but I need their number!
Again, in terms of looks, everyone seemed like a perfect fit for the characters they were meant to play and it was nice to view it through this lens as I hadn’t read the books when I did my initial announcement. Lana Condor plays Lara Jean as the witty sweet character book fans will be familiar with and the arc over the film shows that she is willing to stand up for herself when needed and knows her worth: see the contract scene when she writes “no kissing.” Also a moment of appreciation is needed for the state of Lara Jean’s room. A seemingly small detail but worked! The preparation for the skype call with Margot had me really laughing as it just showcased the ridiculous situation Lara Jean had found herself in. Oh, and kitty’s digs were just so on point: my favourite was when she put on her helmet before getting in the car with Lara Jean to go to school.
Given the nature of the plot progression, a lot rides on making Peter Kavinsky, played by Noah Centineo, stand out. In the books I loved his charm and self-assuredness and that certainly comes through on screen. The chemistry between him and Lana felt like watching a real couple fall in love as they start to learn more about each other and see how similar they actually are when you strip school social standing away.
The family dynamic is one of the real gems of the book, and one I was looking forward to seeing on screen. It certainly has its moments but I wish there had been more scenes of them all together before Margot disappeared to college.
From an adaptation view, there are a lot of changes. Some of the attempts to streamline the story make sense when you’re confined to a feature length film. However, there’s been a big buzz around the fact this film has an Asian female lead (Lana is Vietnamese but book Lara is Korean-American) and in the book Lara’s heritage is a big part of who she is as an individual because she feels that connection to her deceased mother through cooking Korean food and baking. In the book there are scenes where she cosplays only as Asian characters to emphasis her points of the lack of representation and she is quick to beat others to the punch about her ethnicity. But in the film, there’s a mention about a yogurt drink and that’s it. I get that the angle they were going for was to just have this character exist with making it all about her being “other” to the teen female leads that viewers often see in the mainstream but it just felt almost like she’d lost that link to her mother. Especially when author Jenny Han said she included those aspects because she never saw herself in books growing up.
Josh was a character I really loved in the books and unfortunately in this adaptation he left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I can’t stand boys who feel like they own a girl and the way he stands up to Peter to assert his dominance to look after Lara made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, most of his scenes just involve him turning up and being angry.
The storytelling just felt a bit messy: the big reveals such as the culprit of the letter (which is made really obvious by a shot of a character while Lara Jean is freaking out about the missing box) and the aftermath of the infamous hot tub scene were really quickly skimmed over and instantly forgotten about in favour of focusing more on the development of Peter and Lara’s relationship. Those big moments that play a part of her narrative were so glossed over that her character just felt a bit flat despite all the great aspects of her in the books. In fact, the only character to really stand out to me was Peter Kavinsky who felt well rounded and it’s easy to see how much he started to care for Lara Jean. He commanded the attention when on screen which was great but often made me forget that Lara Jean was even there.
I’ve left the viewing experience feeling a little dejected. All the reviews and comments and trending hashtags have fans and new fans gushing over the story, so hopefully this will come up good and the sequel will be picked up for production. I just feel like a lot of the drama was lost and the characters were very flat at points. Maybe I’m too attached to the books. Maybe I’m too attached to the audiobook narrator for Lara Jean. But I am going to give it another watch.
Have you watched it?
What did you think?