By Ciéra Cree
We all have those days where we wake up and can a) instantly tell that we are going to get very little done or b) where we can tell that our minds just need a day off. On this particular day, despite my best efforts of hoping to be a bit productive, I could sense that my head didn’t want to cooperate.
I’m not a person who tends to watch a lot of Netflix, which may come as a surprise considering that I’m soon to be entering my second year of Media BA (Hons). But something in me decided to have a random browse through their “originals” section. There were numerous enticing titles but when I saw ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ my brain instantly made a connection. It must have been months prior but on a piece of paper, which is now goodness knows where, I made a list of shows and films that I would like to check out sometime in the future. This film was definitely one of the ones on it, so I hit play.
Warning: this review contains heavy spoilers.
Based off of the 2014 book of the same name by Jenny Han, ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ tells the story of sixteen-year-old highschool introvert Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor). Lara lived at home with her father (John Corbett), her older sister Margot (Janel Parrish) and her eleven-year-old younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) before Margot moved away to Scotland to start university. After Margot leaves, Lara is left feeling even more isolated than before both within her general life as well as among the grief of losing their mother, so little sister Kitty decides that it is her duty to step in.
Although Lara was shy and had never had a boyfriend, it didn’t mean that she had never had a crush! Hidden away in a teal hat box, she kept an assortment of letters addressed to, as the film title suggests, all of the boys she had ever loved before. In total there were five: one for her neighbour Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard) who happened to be Margot’s ex-boyfriend, one for “Kenny from Camp” (Edward Kewin), one for Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), one for John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Burtchett) and one to a boy called Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro). These letters were all handwritten and included the addresses of the boys, despite not being stamped.
To me, as a viewer, this already raised some questions. Why would Lara address all of these letters despite never intending to send them? Or perhaps she would tell people that she never intended to even though she secretly wanted to? The fact that she addressed the one to her neighbour as well seemed rather peculiar, considering that he only lived next door. Her letters were not anonymous either so mailing it to Josh would have made very little difference.
Maybe it was more about the sentiment behind it; the idea of mailing someone a love letter the old fashioned way could have appealed to her passionate nature? Part of me is still left to wonder how she happened to have all of the boys addresses too. Some were more understandable because, of course, she would know the address of her neighbour and the boys whom she was friends with. But, for instance, in the case of John Ambrose, they met at a conference once years ago and that was the extent of their interactions.
Technicalities aside for a moment, Kitty posted off all five of the letters behind her sister’s back with the aim of finding her a boyfriend. As a character I really like Kitty. She is blunt and funny and speaks in a matter-of-fact sort of way which comes across as simultaneously charming as well as somewhat sassy. She doesn’t seem to think into the consequences of her actions, only bearing the end goal in mind, which is inspiring but also helps to remind viewers that she is still an eleven-year-old irrespective of her intelligence.
Needless to say that when Lara starts being approached by the boys, due to the mail, she is confused and in a state of panic. Initially she is unsure of how they were leaked so she attempts to merely dismiss them. But when the reality hits that one of the five letters was sent to her sister’s ex-boyfriend she knows that she has to do something, fast.
So what does she do? She makes a pact with Peter, one of the five recipients, to pretend to date in order for her to seem uninterested in Josh and to make Peter’s ex, Genevieve (Emilija Baranac), jealous so that she’ll take him back.
From that point onward I felt that the romance element was relatively predictable. I could tell that Lara, at least, would end up falling for Peter, since she had never dated someone before and that was her first feeling of closeness. It’s the follow up film, ‘To All The Boys: PS. I Still Love You’ (2020) which, for me, took the films to a deeper level.
In the second film Lara and Peter, by that point, are actually dating. She seems noticeably happier, as echoed by the remarks of her family, but when another figure from her past makes a sudden reappearance she begins to question everyone and everything. John Ambrose, one of her past letter recipients, just so happened to sign up to volunteer at the same work experience placement as her and she is beyond shocked, since believing that his letter must have gotten lost mid departure.
This film explores Lara as a person more extensively than the first which is something that I really appreciated. It delves into her hopelessly romantic heart and her desire to find something beautiful, as well as the ways that the mind can misinterpret and distort the beauty which is already in front of us. She begins to see Peter differently and convinces herself that he doesn’t want her – only Genevieve.
Genevieve isn’t overly likeable but towards the end of this sequel seeing a softer side to her was highly impactful. Throughout the films she consistently acted hostile towards Lara, usually unwarranted, and we assume that it’s because there is jealousy between them over Peter. An element of that may be true but when it becomes apparent to Lara that Genevieve isn’t as harsh as she seems to be the truth of where her feelings should lie about the pair of them reveals itself.
Overall I liked these films; they were heartwarming, sweet and easy to watch. The second one, in my opinion, was better than the first although in order to properly digest it you need to have watched the one prior.
From an analytical level there were some parts such as addressing the neighbours letter, John Ambrose magically happening to volunteer at the same placement as the main character and the way that Lara would go to sleep and wake up in false eyelashes which potentially lacked some attention to detail or came across as unrealistic but on the whole they were enjoyable. There were touches of thoughtful detail within the films such as when viewers could hear Lara’s thoughts that I wished were explored further but I can see the appeal for simplicity when portraying content in a genre like this.
(Sidenote: I definitely smiled when discovering that Ross Butler was a part of the cast for film two!).
A third film, ‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean’, is estimated for release late this year.