Like “Mean Girls” or “Sixteen Candles”, recently-released Netflix original “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” revolves around the microcosm of high school – but where its predecessors may have failed in terms of diversity and even realism, the film succeeds in providing humor, relatability and more nuanced representations of identity.
Regardless of how much you think you hate rom-coms, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is an enjoyable venture for anyone with a heart. Lana Condor plays Lara Jean Covey, the film’s spirited but lovably sheepish main character whose usually tranquil teenage experience becomes chaotic when letters she’s written to her crushes somehow fall into the aforementioned crushes’ hands. Mayhem ensues as Lara attempts to control the damage done to her relationship, accidentally gets adopted by the popular crowd, and, despite her best efforts, falls in love with someone she knows she doesn’t have a chance with.
While the basic plot is unequivocally kitschy – and that’s even before the fake dating comes into play – Condor’s acting, alongside Noah Centineo, saves the day. Whatever disbelief you might harbor for such a tropey love story is suspended by the setting, the soundtrack, and the way Condor and Centineo interact on-screen. Setting a rom-com in high school may not to be the most original idea, but it provides a familiar backdrop that plays well against the also-familiar moments that Lara Jean experiences in front of the camera – embarrassment, exhilaration, andhesitation to actually feel her feelings.
The film’s sense of realism extends into its casting and soundtrack, too. Surprisingly enough for an extremely white-washed genre, the importance of Lara Jean’s Korean heritage is not overlooked: she and her sisters drink Yakult ritually, make fun of their father for butchering Korean dishes, and talk openly about their dual heritage at multiple points throughout the film. (Other examples of racial diversity and even a glimmer of gay representation appear in the film, but take a backseat to Lara’s role.) Though it’s important to acknowledge that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is providing much-needed representation in a generally bland genre, the movie itself addresses Lara Jean’s identity with refreshing casualness – no drama, no self-congratulatory speeches, no poorly-scripted remarks on her Korean background from even the slimiest of characters.
The film’s soundtrack is one of its high points, and again, realism is its advantage. The majority of the songs played are synthy pop ballads that wouldn’t be out of place in a “Bedroom Pop” playlist on Spotify, the kind of songs that you add to your library even as they’re playing from the movie in front of you. During particularly dramatic moments, a few striking chords from a classical song might play to really drive the point home, but unlike many other movies, the tracklist from “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is fascinatingly easy listening.
“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” could’ve easily succumbed to the wiles of an easy, tacky plot. But it stands out against a sea of rom-coms and Netflix originals because of its genuinely modern flair, shining from the film’s diversity, casual realism and relevance to today’s high school experience.