To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Based on the YA novel of the same name, To All The Boys I've Loved Before follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a young girl in her junior year of high school. When Lara Jean has a crush so intense that she doesn’t know what to do, she writes a letter; but when her letters mysteriously get out, all her crushes find out how she felt about them - all at once. One of her past crushes, Peter, suggests that they pretend to date to make his ex jealous and to help cover up Lara Jean's longtime crush for her older sister's boyfriend, and she accepts. As they spend more and more time together, Lara Jean gets more confused about her feelings and realizes that she has real feelings for Peter. The story follows Lara Jean as she tries to set all her relationships straight while navigating the teetering balance between her real feelings and her fake relationship.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a play on the popular “fake dating” trope, and while there are cliché elements to the movie, it’s overall an incredibly charming story. The movie adhered to many typical romcom conventions, my favorite of which was the freeze-frame character introduction. An easy, simple way to introduce new characters, the freeze-frame allowed the audience to get insight on the characters surrounding Lara Jean from Lara Jean herself. Although it is a common trope, and maybe a little cliché, it worked surprisingly well in this context. And, while we may not all write letters to our crushes, we can all relate to Lara Jean’s embarrassments and heartbreaks, which helps prevent the movie from getting too campy or cheesy. In all, this movie knows what it is – it isn’t striving to be the most innovative romcom or the most inventive; it’s simply trying to tell a heartwarming story with fun characters.
One of the biggest positives of the movie was its diversity. Author Jenny Han, who is Korean American, had expressed the necessity that her main character be Asian American. With so many romcoms being released every year, few actually showcase a diverse leading actor or cast, but that is something that this movie does incredibly well. Condor is herself Vietnamese and visibly Asian. Many Asian Americans, myself included, can often be white-passing, so it’s refreshing to see someone undeniably Asian in a leading role. The best part, though, is that Lara Jean isn’t reduced to any of the typical Hollywood stereotypes – there are no neon streaks of hair, overly quirky traits, or katanas in sight. She is simply a high school girl who happens to be Asian, which is so relieving. It’s strange to be grateful for seeing a culture portrayed normally and without exaggeration, but it is an unfortunate side of Hollywood that has gotten all too common.
However, in an opinion for The New York Times, Han said, “I ended up deciding to work with the only production company that agreed the main character would be played by an Asian actress. No one else was willing to do it. Still, I was holding my breath all the way up until shooting began because I was scared they would change their minds. They didn’t.” Even in a day and age where production companies can be found by the thousands, it’s unsurprising that only one wanted to highlight the original book’s diversity. Adaptations don’t necessarily need to be an exact carbon copy of their source material, but certain aspects – like, for example, a main character who’s a person of color or female – should be respected, especially in the case of female Asian American representation - which is itself few and far between. As an Asian American girl who grew up in California, this is an issue I’m all too familiar with. Every single romcom I saw starred a handsome, classic-Hollywood-looking white man and an equally beautiful white woman. I had never seen people who looked like me in these fantastically romantic movies, and it had a hugely negative effect on me – seeing only other people fall in love and be happy in relationships had created a warped concept of who was allowed to have these cheesy, heartwarming stories and who wasn’t. I wouldn’t call To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before revolutionary, but it’s an important movie showcasing the necessity of diverse characters.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the romcom I wish I had growing up and is a sweet portrayal of what it means to be young, innocent, and in love. Representation is a powerful thing, because when you see someone who looks like you, you can imagine being in their shoes. Hopefully, for young Asian American girls, they can look at Lara Jean and realize they too can not only be actresses, but leading women on screen and off.