This is a bit of a delayed reaction but I think perhaps even better for it because two full months after Netflix released To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before my crush for it is confirmed as full blown love.
I’m not really into reviews, it’s a trade I was at one time in (if you see my blurb in a favorite genre novel of yours published circa 2006-2012, I apologize) but I do want to highlight some aspects of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that really stood out to me and had me looking both back and forward with unmitigated joy.
As I write this with the summer blockbusters in the back mirror and in the beginning of Oscar season To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is legit one of my favorite movies of the year. I prefer it over Crazy Rich Asians which hit theaters the same week that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before debuted on Netflix and put up incredible box office figures
Before you come wild at me for putting the two asian american movies of record this year at odds like that, to your surprise I actually don’t have any influence on scheduling at Netflix or Warner Bros – to my lament the latter actually doesn’t want my opinion on Batman either and their almost zealot-like affection for the choice of an old and busted armored superhero over a young urban detective ninja – and I actually come at it from another angle in that I love that there are two of these things out in a year so I can compare and I hope one day there are 50 to do the same for so I can have the same convos kids had in the 90s about what did they like more, Juice, Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, or Above the Rim (the right answer is you dig all of them but that you’re a Boomerang man.)
The film begins aptly in the form of a fantasy which may seem somewhat out of place in hindsight when looking at the totality of the film but it fit for me because the act that drives the movie mere minutes later in reality is, in 2018, somewhat magical in itself: the act of writing actual letters. I don’t think I’ve done so in perhaps more than a decade. It’s now old, no longer a normal function, but as it is in this film it’s Lara Jean’s treasures locked up in what is in effect her secret wish box.
I have not read the novel, also titled To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han that the film is based on but I wonder if the passing of Lara’s mom ties into some form of self-imposed stasis Lara attaches herself to. She watches and references old (for her) films, she specifically had not seen Fight Club a film that for many people of a certain age was the post-Coming of Age film, and instead she’s into a generation’s before Sixteen Candles, a more classic and incredibly dated coming of age tale that undoubtedly had to be something introduced to her by her parents. Indeed To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is today’s version and improved answer to Hughes’ films of the ’80s.
Every letter was addressed, yet boxed, some luddite’s version of those DM’s we didn’t send and have saved in our drafts. A rare part of ourselves that we don’t share, our precious moments of truth that we still cling too.
Everyone is great in this movie but it very much is Lana Condor’s film. She’s in almost every frame and ironically considering her relationship with transportation in the movie, she drives this film. She’s the literal author of the mechanism that propels the movie and we watch her as her once, present, and/or future secrets and dreams are revealed to the world and confront her. Transportation is huge as a kid and from bus trips to being picked up, and by whom, for school are giant personal branding elements to kids – who we are, who we are with, who cares, who wants to see and be seen with us. People don’t typically travel with people they don’t like by choice. The scene where Peter and Josh talk in front of Lara’s house after he drops her off in some way feels like this new age disjointed macho interaction of two boys saying things that don’t quite mean what they both are implying to each other, a western-esque style showdown, with Peter aloft on his mount being aloof to a Josh who is left literally taking out the trash, already abandoned by Lara Jean’s older sister. Speaking of her, Margot (played by Janel Parrish), herself is flying off in the beginning of the film, reaching the end of the journey her sisters still have to traverse but the beginning of a new one and as Lara Jean says, she is not one to look back.
Lara Jean is an introvert but fashionable. Invisible but yet exotic in the way perhaps asians know or are projected on more than most. She’s the middle child in a trio of sisters that includes an older sister who seems to have it together and a younger sister who already seems like the 3.0 next-gen heir apparent.
While there is the obvious tragedy in all their lives in the form of the early death of their mother, it’s something that happened before, they’ve lived since then and while they all in some form have dreams, they aren’t living a nightmare, this is a strong family and there is a core of simple idyllic normalcy that grounds the film and makes the representation at the heart of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before even stronger: this was in every other way a normal and even very much above average family with a great father, home, and presumably more affluent than not upbringing. Money isn’t an element in this movie. One of the kids isn’t some disaster. There is no torture here that isn’t the common self inflicted innocent tortures of childhood. These are good people living a good life when we meet them after they were dealt the most heavy of blows that impacted all of them. With that in mind it’s hard to not think they have a baller dad. Always said the right things, always put out positive energy, unconditionally love coming from him to all his girls and returned the same way.
So it is the letters themselves that intrigued me the most because To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is about communication. The letters, an anti-ansible, a character that knows what she wants, can get what she wants, leads a healthy non-toxic life at home, yet keeps it as her most treasured and guarded secret. It struck me that it was a member of her family that had to reveal and put these desires out into the world for Lara. As a single child this would not have happened for me, the youngest of the Covey girls revealed to be the Machiavellian mastermind behind Lara Jean putting herself out there, which seems fitting as successive generations have less and less fucks about saying what they want and speaking it into reality.
Back to the evenly presented playing field versus some teenage dystopian existence, the altogether unsaid yet still existing screams of the differences and isolation asian americans can feel even beyond many teenagers do. Our differences are physically obvious, in many communities we are utterly unique, our excellence often expected. Lana Condor is a beautiful woman but she didn’t have to be to be obviously different in every frame she was in when she was at parties or in class, and that pressure, that existence, doesn’t have to be permanently life crippling to warrant being spotlighted, to be talked about, to have films made that reflect that.
I may have some more posts about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before because I have feelings about Christine, Lara Jean’s best friend portrayed by Madeline Arthur, and a few other subjects that just struck deep to me in a way I never would have expected when I started the film, a film that is WILDLY successful for Netflix and feels like the type of film that 10 years from now newly formed adults will look back on with a special form of fondness which these days translates to having an unassailable permanent spot on your Netlfix watchlist.
Always and forever, Lara Jean.