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‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ revitalizes the rom-com genre with a spark of diversity

A teen romance with an Asian-American lead is a fresh take on a familiar story

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‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ revitalizes the rom-com genre with a spark of diversity

By Ashley Tsang, Collegian Correspondent

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In an age of superhero and thriller movies, there is little room for light-hearted and comedic films to garner large attention. However, in the last couple of months, Netflix has revitalized the rom-com genre with films like “Set it Up,” “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and, of course, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” Based on the young adult novel of the same name by Jenny Han, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is reminiscent of the innocence and cheesiness of older teenage romances done right. The film comes at a moment when diversity on screen is being heralded, allowing it to pave the way for further Asian representation in media. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” brings a hint of nostalgia with it, but also offers a refreshing spin on the same story by introducing new, diverse faces to tell these stories.

The film revolves around introverted hopeless romantic Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), who writes love letters to all the crushes she’s ever had in her life, but never sends them. Instead, they lie dormant in an old hat box, because despite loving the idea of love, Lara Jean is afraid of the vulnerability that comes with it.

At the start of the film, audiences learn that Lara Jean’s older sister, Margot (Janel Parrish), is moving away to attend college in Scotland, so she breaks up with her boyfriend, and Lara Jean’s close friend, Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard). Unbeknownst to Margot, Lara Jean likes Josh and had previously written him a love letter. However, she refuses to pursue him, because she wouldn’t want to hurt Margot. But when one day the letters get out, Lara Jean is left to deal with the consequences of the five letters she’s written getting into the hands of her former crushes.

The first person to confront her is Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), her crush from middle school, who is now the boyfriend of her ex-best friend, Gen (Emilija Baranac), until eventually Gen dumps him for a college boy. Peter makes it clear he is not interested in Lara Jean, but when an opportunity comes up for Peter to make Gen jealous and for Lara Jean to avoid confronting Josh, the duo strike up a fake relationship to help each other out.

The film in general is indulgent and sweet, and while some lines are cliché, belief has to be suspended at some points in order for the plot to be enjoyable. Performances by Lana Condor and Noah Centineo are the highlights of the film. At the beginning, there are moments of weakness, but as the film progresses both Condor and Centineo grow into their characters, acting with the perfect amount of genuineness and innocence to pull off two high schoolers unsure of their feelings. Centineo especially plays Peter with a vulnerability unseen in typical male characters. Unafraid to express his emotions and to make romantic gestures, he proves how men can be emotionally vulnerable and masculine at the same time.

The chemistry between the two leads is what truly makes the film and you are made to root for them almost from the very start. Even when Lara Jean herself is confused of her feelings between Josh and Peter, audiences root for Peter, because her interactions with Josh simply pale in comparison. There is a certain liveliness that Peter brings out in Lara Jean, and a certain sincerity that Lara Jean brings out in Peter, which makes the two of them better together than apart.

The theme of family also plays an integral role in the film. Lara Jean’s mother passed away when she was young, leaving behind her father to raise three daughters alone. When Margot finds out about how Lara Jean used to like Josh, she is upset for a little while before she is back comforting Lara Jean after her and Peter’s “breakup.” At the center of the film is a strong sisterhood bond, between Lara Jean, Margot and their youngest sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart); they may fight and argue, but at the end of the day they are always there to support each other. Lara Jean’s father, Dr. Covey (John Corbett), is sidelined for most of the movie, but near the end has a touching scene with her where they speak about the loss of her mother. It is in this scene that audiences can finally see her father as a dynamic character and Lara Jean learns about who her mother truly was.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” fits the mold of a romantic comedy perfectly, with the addition of an unconventional lead. Lara Jean is Asian-American yes, but it does not define her personality. It is simply a part of her. It is no more a part of her than her love for “Sixteen Candles”, her love of baking or her horrible driving skills. As an Asian-American, it was exciting to see typical Asian things like Korean yogurt mentioned so casually in media, because it finally validated my culture and the foods I ate growing up. For this reason, representation is important. It is refreshing to see Asian-Americans not pigeonholed into one or two stereotypical roles but instead allowed to play the lead in their own stories where they are not defined by their race.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a charming movie that steals the hearts of all audiences, effectively bringing the rom-com into a new diverse era.

Ashley Tsang can be reached at [email protected]

2 Comments

2 Responses to “‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ revitalizes the rom-com genre with a spark of diversity”

  1. amy on September 25th, 2018 10:36 am

    I am asian and I don’t like this. It’s just part of the diversity cult. There are alot of good asian authors like Kobe Abe but not authors who write ‘rom-com’

    The columnist says that that Asians aren’t represented; but she ignores the huge volume of Asian literature and how does she want Asians represented? By the standards of white liberals.

    Liberals create a narrative of oppression and discrimination when it doesn’t exist and blots out the actual contributions and presence of Asians in our country for decades. They want the people they target to get so angry they fail to think reasonably and just join their cult; which ironically limits their representation. Instead of being entirely Asian, now you can only represent yourself in small sliver of many different cultures, nationalities, and within the confines of what white liberals say is socially acceptable.

  2. Robert Campbell II on September 26th, 2018 8:51 am

    I’ve only watched this movie once, but from what I can tell, I think there are many different cultures in this movie. However, I’ve not really paid close attention to it. I basically watched it because it has Anna Cathcart in it. She’s the best. Maybe if she’s in another movie, maybe I can be in it too. Anna is so amazing. I really want to meet her.

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