To All The Boys I've Loved Before movie review: Netflix drama doesn't fully deliver but has its moments

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

August 21, 2018 08:28:14 IST

2.5/5

Susan Johnson’s new Netflix teenage high school romantic drama film To All The Boys I've Loved Before is based on Jenny Han’s 2014 young adult novel of the same name, and while the plot is nicely set up on a premise that fans of the genre will find sufficiently exciting, the film does seem to squander the potential of that very premise. In a sense, the film cheats us into believing that it has more content than it actually does, and had it not been for this feeling of being let down, I would have perhaps enjoyed the film a bit more than I did, because all said and done, it works – in parts.

To All The Boys I Have Loved Before. Image via Twitter/@FadedYoda

To All The Boys I've Loved Before. Image via Twitter/@FadedYoda

Lara Jean Song Covey is a sixteen-year-old half Korean half Caucasian girl living and studying in an unnamed city in America. Right at the beginning of the film, we learn that her mother has passed away several years ago, and that she and her two sisters – one elder and the other younger to her – have been raised by her gynaecologist father. Lara Jean is very close to her two sisters, and when the elder Margot leaves for college after dumping her boyfriend Josh, Lara Jean is confused about her own feelings for Josh who she once used to have a crush on. But, as it turns out, Josh is not the only boy she had had a crush on – and that there were, in fact, five of them, over the years. A quiet girl with self-esteem issues, Lara Jean could never tell any of these five boys that she loved them, and in a bid to give vent to her emotions, she wrote each of them a letter at different stages of her life, telling them how she felt about them. Naturally, she never posted these letters, and they were safely kept in her own private chest. One day, her younger sister Kitty makes the disastrous mistake of posting all five letters, and Lara Jean now finds herself in the limelight all of a sudden, trying to grapple with the new-found attention of as many as five boys, and realising for the first time in her life, that she wasn’t quite as invisible as she thought she was.

While the plot has promise, the film doesn’t quite deliver, thanks to the disproportionate amount of time it spends in exploring what happens when one of Lara Jean’s ex-crushes receive the letter she had written to her years ago. This boy – Peter Kavinsky – who is currently struggling to save his own relationship with Lara Jean’s former best friend, uses her as a green-eyed proxy to get back with his girlfriend. And for some strange and inexplicable reason, Lara Jean agrees to go ahead with this weird plan. The plan does seem to work though, but it only seems that way because by now, Peter Kavinsky has – predictably – fallen head over heels in love with the simple charm of Lara Jean. While there are high doses of immaturity in the plot here here, I must admit that there are some poignant moments of blooming teenage romance at play. And more than anyone else, the credit for that goes to young actor Noah Centineo, who plays Peter Kavinsky with more maturity than perhaps the makers of the film ever expected him to. In at least two scenes – one in which he speaks about his estranged father, and in another in which he just falls short of confessing his love for Lara Jean – Centineo manages to make me sit up and notice him. The kid exudes a confident charm, and I’ll go out on a limb to say that if he chooses his projects carefully, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Lana Condor plays Lara Jean with enough understanding of her character to keep you hooked to her performance. Uncharacteristic to the manner in which I usually watch my films, I was very interested to know what she was feeling as the story moved on, despite the many flaws in the writing itself. There is a certain ‘every-girl’ sort of presence in her, and along with her younger sister (played brilliantly by Anna Cathcart) and her best friend (Madeleine Arthur in a show-stealing role), she forges a perfect bond of soul-sisterhood that comes across as far more precious than any crush on the face of earth. It is this vibe – that she is good enough with whatever little she has, sans all the usual attentions a girl of her age seeks and aspires for – that Candor beautifully brings forth through her performance.

What I did not like about the film is the fact that the sole focus of the story seemed to be on one boy – and not five, as the films promos promised. You can appreciate the feeling of discontent I must have felt, because the plot was thus stripped of all its glorious possibilities and complexities. But if you’re willing to ignore that nagging feeling, you might enjoy this breezy high-school romance.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 15:51 PM