To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): The trouble with her letters

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Netflix film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a conventional coming-of-age comedy drama, but it distinguishes itself with several good things to notice. First, it is rather refreshing to see a major American teenager film featuring an Asian American heroine, and that is certainly a nice change for more diversity in American movies. Second, the movie is mostly entertaining even though it is quite predictable at times, and you will appreciate its witty storytelling and colorful characters. Third, the movie is packed with a bunch of likable performances to enjoy, and I must tell you that I frequently smiled or chuckled as entertained by numerous comic moments generated among them.

During the early scenes, we get to know about Lara Jean (Lana Candor) and her daily adolescent life in general. Since her Korean mother died several years ago, she and her two sisters Margo (Janel Parrish) and Katherine (Anna Cathcart) have grown up under the loving care of their gynecologist father Dan (John Corbett), and they all have been comfortable together in their cozy suburban house, but now there comes a big change to be accepted. Margo, the oldest girl in the house, is soon going to a college in Scotland, and Lara Jean and her younger sister Katherine are surely as happy for that as their father, but it goes without saying that they are going to miss their dear oldest sister a lot once she leaves.

While the family is having a Korean dinner clumsily but sincerely prepared by Dan, Margo’s boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard) comes to show more affection toward her, but Margo surprises everyone as announcing that she wants to break off with Josh for focusing more on her study, and this certainly breaks Josh’s heart while also bringing some turmoil into Lara Jean’s heart. Since Josh and his family started to live right next to her house, Lara Jean has had a crush on him, but she has kept her feeling to herself after he and Margo began their relationship, and now she becomes agitated again by that feeling of hers as watching the end of the relationship between her sister and Josh.

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It turns out that Lara Jean actually expressed her feeling once through a letter to Josh a few years ago, but she chose to keep it within her secret box along with several other letters she wrote as driven by her romantic feeling toward other boys besides Josh. One of them is Peter (Noah Centineo), but he is one of the most popular boys in her high school, and he surely seems to be out of her league. In addition, he is currently in the relationship with Genevieve (Emilija Baranac), a popular girl who was once very close to Lara Jean during their middle school years but then has distanced herself from Lara Jean in contrast to Christine (Madeleine Arthur), Lara Jean’s current best friend who is incidentally Genevieve’s cousin.

As many of you already guessed, these letters are eventually sent to their respective recipients by someone (you can easily discern who that is within a few seconds, by the way), and Lara Jean soon finds herself in a very complicated circumstance. When Peter approaches to her with the letter sent to him, she is surely shocked and embarrassed, but then she sees Josh approaching to her for the same matter, and she has no choice but to pretend that she loves Peter right in front of Josh.

This certainly results in quite an awkward moment between her and Peter, but then Peter suggests that they should pretend to be a couple for a while. Although he recently broke up with Genevieve, he wants her to come back to him, and he requests Lara Jean to be his fake girlfriend who may make Genevieve consider restarting her relationship with him. While understandably reluctant at first, Lara Jean agrees to be Peter’s fake girlfriend in the end, and they even make a contract for their fake relationship.

As their fake relationship becomes official to everyone in their high school, Lara Jean is amazed to see how much her status is changed as a result. While their fake relationship surely induces the jealousy from Genevieve as planned, Lara Jean sees her popularity rising far higher than she has ever imagined. As she is associated more with Peter, more boys and girls begin to hang around her, and her social life is accordingly expanded a lot.

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In the meantime, she finds herself more attracted to Peter than expected, and it seems Peter also comes to like her more than before, but she still has to sort out her complex emotional matter. She remains conflicted between Josh and Peter, and the situation becomes more complicated when Margot comes back from Scotland later in the story.

What follows after that narrative point will not surprise you much, but the movie keeps bouncing along the plot, and the screenplay by Sofia Alvarez, which is adapted from Jenny Han’s popular young adult romance novel of the same name, did a good job of handling its archetype characters with wit, humor, and affection. While Lara Jean comes to us a smart, sensitive girl who comes to mature as coping with her feelings, the other characters in the film are also depicted with a considerable amount of personality and humanity, and even Genevieve is allowed to show her own insecurity behind her haughty appearance during one brief scene.

As the center of the movie, Lana Condor is plucky and lovable in her charming performance, and she is supported well by good performers surrounding her. While Noah Centineo clicks well with Candor during their scenes, Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart are believable as Lara Jean’s two sisters, and I enjoyed how effortlessly they and Conor convey the strong emotional bond among their characters. Israel Broussard, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, and John Corbett are also fine in their respective supporting roles as holding each own small place around Candor, and Corbett has a small touching scene where his character has a sincere and honest conversation with Lara Jean.

In the strict sense, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” does not break any new ground in its genre territory, but it brings some fresh air to its genre conventions. Sure, we can clearly see what it is going to do right from the very beginning, but it did its job as well as intended, and we come to cheer for its heroine a lot in the end.

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