‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Movie Review: A Faithful Adaptation That Ushers In New Wave of Teen Rom-Coms

Growing up in the late ‘90s and early 00’s, teenage rom coms were a way of life. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That taught me life lessons about growing up and gave me an outlet to escape.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Netflix’s adaptation of the Jenny Han book, is the modern teenage rom-com that this generation needs. In a society where social media and technology can mask what’s important, To All The Boys reminded me of the teen rom-coms I grew up watching that have stayed with me even to this day.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t only a faithful adaptation that is satisfying in all of the right ways. It’s the kind of movie that reminds you what it was like growing up with these kinds of movies that acted like a big sister to you when you needed it.

There’s been a lack of these kinds of films that target an adolescent audience. “Young Adult” is looked upon like a bad word, for whatever reason. But adolescents deserve films that are made with them in mind. But with To All The Boys, and the soon to follow Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, we can only hope that this marks the resurgence of these kinds of films that can serve as guidance for teens or nostalgia for adults.

With this resurgence of rom coms, including another Netflix original Set It Up, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is ushering in a new wave of teenage rom coms in a way that’s timeless yet modern and endearing.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before tells the story of 16 year old Lara Jean Covey, who is crazy about being crazy in love. When she feels so strongly about a crush, she writes a love letter to get all of her feelings out. But she never gives them to the boy she’s crushing on. No, these letters are for her — to remind her of how strong her emotions can be. But once those love letters — five in total — are sent out, Lara Jean finds herself forced to confront these boys as well as her own feelings. Especially considering one of the boys is her sister’s ex-boyfriend and another that’s dating her nemesis, Gen.

Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky ultimately decide to team-up in order for a) Lara Jean to convince her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh that she doesn’t have feelings for him; and b) Peter to make now ex-girlfriend Gen jealous. But as we all know, life works in mysterious ways. So the more Lara Jean and Peter “pretend” to be in love, the more they actually begin to actually fall in love.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is the perfect example of an ordinary story that feels extraordinary because it’s powerful in the emotions it elicits. Girl gets crushes, writes letters. Letters get out, girl is forced to deal with that and everything that comes with being a teenager. This is the kind of movie that this generation needs. Movies that don’t take place in fantasy worlds but that feel so extraordinary because they’re just, well, ordinary.

It’s the relationships in Han’s book, and this film, that make this story worthwhile. It’s not just a love story with Lara Jean and Peter. It’s a love story between family — Lara Jean and her sisters Kitty and Margo. The reason that audiences care about a story or not is because of the characters. The more invested we are in the fate of these fictional characters, the more we care about this movie and the possible movies to follow.

The thing with any book to movie adaptation is that fans of the book want this new medium to possess the spirit of the source material. That doesn’t mean a word-for-word, scene-for-scene version. That means understanding what’s important to include in this film to elicit the same reaction from audiences. That means focusing on the characters that drive the story. That means involving the author and getting useful feedback when it comes to the adaptation. That means reading the book and understanding that’s the reason this movie is getting made. Because of those words, those characters, and the fans’ hearts that have been touched by this story.

Enough cannot be said about how important it is for a book by an Asian-American author to be adapted by a woman and for the leading character — and all the Song sisters — to be Asian-American. Representation is important now more than ever, and everyone deserves to see themselves in characters on screen. Because, at its core, a character is just a human being. Lara Jean is a teenage girl living in 2018 and dealing with everything that entails. It should feel this natural. It is this natural. More studios should focus on actually depicting a world that looks like the one we live in.

Another reason why this film works so well is because of the amazing cast of actors that work so hard to bring these beloved characters to life. The two most important relationships in the book — and that I was watching quite closely under a microscope — were Lara Jean’s relationship with her sisters and Lara Jean’s relationship with Peter. As a fan you go into this movie knowing this full-well and hoping that the chemistry is there and that they do justice by these characters’ dynamics.

The dynamic between Lara Jean, Kitty, and Margo was just so beuatiufl to watch come to life. It felt like the book literally come to life. It embodied everything that it means to be sisters while also maintaining each character’s individual identity and personality that clicked as well as it clicked in the book. There were beautiful moments of sister bonding coupled with some disputes, and it was just great to see all three of these beautiful characters.

And of course we can’t forget about Lara Jean and Peter, the love story of this entire series. To think, if Lara Jean had never written those letters and if Kitty had never released them, Lara Jean and Peter wouldn’t have their epic love story. As a book fan, it was surreal to watch Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship come to life, so I can’t even imagine how it felt for Jenny Han. Lana Condor and Noah Centineo have such a beautiful and organic chemistry that feels so incredibly real that it gives you goosebumps. They did an amazing job of pretending to be pretend in love and then in love. It makes me all the more eager to see the rest of their story come to life.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has everything it needs to become the next big rom-com hit of the summer. And Netflix has been doing an incredible job of understanding that audiences, be it young or older, want to see more of these kinds of movies. The Kissing Booth, Set It Up, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and soon to be Sierra Burgess Is A Loser — these are the kinds of movies that audiences have shown that they want to watch. And I cannot help but be selfish when I say that I’m going to need a sequel announcement like as soon as possible, given that there are two more books in Lara Jean’s high school journey. I’ve watched To All The Boys six times before its premiere, and every single time it’s left me thirsting to see the rest of the story come to life. If To All The Boys does as well as we all believe it will, I don’t see why we won’t get the other two installments.

And, as a fan of Han’s books and these kinds of films, I need more.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is now streaming on Netflix.

Teacher by day, writer by every other free moment | Obsessed with sports, TV, books, movies, and superheroes | Proud shipper and supporter of strong female characters | Co-executive Editor for Fangirlish | Contributor for Bears Wire at USA Today SMG | Producer/Co-Host of Buffone 55 for Bears Barroom Radio Network | Contact: alyssa@fangirlish.com.