Article by: Stephanie H.
Graphic by: Rhia M.
Released on Netflix on the 17th of August, the movie adaption of Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a beautiful classic teen rom-com. With clichés and overused plot devices, the adaption is a perfect throwback to 90s teen movies. By featuring an Asian-American protagonist, it also manages to be enchanting and full of delight.
The movie is centred around the typical fake dating scheme found in my personal favorite, The Proposal. Even the characterization of the protagonist, Lara Jean Song Covey, is as cliché and overused as its plot. Lara Jean, quiet yet opinionated, is a romantic at heart. However, she exhibits an emotional unavailability towards relationships as a result of past trauma regarding the loss of her mother. Unable to express her feelings towards the boys that she likes, Lara Jean writes letters to them instead—not as a method to share her feelings with them, but as an outlet. When the letters are sent out without her knowledge, this results in a fake relationship. Inevitably, Lara Jean and her fake boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky, end up falling deeply in love. Despite my initial concern regarding familiar tropes and archetypes, I found that the film executes them with care and consideration, and displays as much love towards their use in plot development as their characters present to each other. And in watching the movie for the sixth time since its release, I discovered that that’s what makes it more than just another “chick flick”.
The movie even indulges in the classic Asian stereotype of terrible driving. However, unlike other films in which the stereotype is only utilised for comedic purposes in order to diminish Asian cultures and to perpetuate negativity towards non-western backgrounds, Lara Jean’s inability to remain calm behind the wheel is used as a method to progress her relationship with Peter and provides a fantastically comedic introduction to the nature of their relationship. Had they not already known each other, the scene would have served as a sickeningly sweet “meet-cute”. Whilst perpetuating stereotypes is one of my red flags, it manages to demonstrate Lara Jean’s strength and determination and displays her ability to take control of her life.
Like with other movies in the “chick flick” category, the film deals with love and romance, but in its execution, I discovered that it presents more than that. It displays a wonderful representation of biracial families and manages to shift the focus of the story towards love and high school instead of the protagonist’s ethnicity. It also manages to depict healthy familial and social relationships that are based around kindness and love—something that I find is usually lacking in most romantic comedies. I also found that the relationships were highlighted even further through the actors’ obvious chemistry and love for one another. Lara Jean’s dad’s touching yet misguided attempts at recreating a Korean dish exemplify the importance in maintaining the Song-Coveys’ connection to their mother and to their identities as a biracial family. Through this, I discovered that the film was not just about romance, but also about familial love and maintaining a connection to your identity.
However, that is not to say that I didn’t uncover any flaws. Whilst indulging in a typical stereotype, the movie also includes its own “vapid mean girl”, the same overused archetype found in other movies in the category. Genevieve, Peter Kavinsky’s ex girlfriend, is entertaining, but also incredibly petty. I was disappointed with the choice to leave her as nothing more than that. The only reason I can think of as a justification for the choice of including a static, two-dimensional character is that the story ultimately demonstrates the idea that if you show others love and if you are kind, then you are deserving of the same love—something that Genevieve never displayed to the audience or to any of the other characters.
In my opinion, however, this misstep is made up through the inclusion of Lara Jean’s relationships with her family and the connection that she forms with Peter over the loss of their parents. Peter’s characterisation also makes up for the static Genevieve as he displays his own insecurities and is able to talk freely about his emotions. Additionally, we are able to see Peter fall head over heels in love with Lara Jean and his patience in waiting for her to see past her obliviousness and come to the same realisation. As a bonus, Peter demonstrates an obvious interest in connecting with Lara Jean’s family. As a result, I, along with most of the internet, found myself falling in love with Peter Kavinsky.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is unapologetic in its presentation of love and romance. Whilst it fits wonderfully into the “chick flick” genre, the movie is more than just that. Because of this, it allows their audience to love them back with all the same purity and wholesomeness that they present to us.