Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Author: Siggy Kahama
If you spent any time on the internet at all after August 17, chances are you’ve seen some article or post about “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” one of Netflix’s newest original movies. The film, which the studio adapted from a book of the same name by Jenny Han, became an overnight success. Media outlets from Cosmopolitan to Buzzfeed covered the movie and cast intensely. So what exactly makes this movie such a phenomenon?
From left to right, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), Margot (Janel Parrish) and Lara Jean (Lana Condor). Photo courtesy of Metro US.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” didn’t waste time establishing stereotypical movie cliques in protagonist Lara Jean’s high school that don’t actually exist in real life. Lara Jean, her family, her friends and her love interests all have backstories and dimensions. While it would have been easy for the screenwriters to pigeonhole Lara Jean as a wallflower or manic pixie dream girl, they instead gave her friends and love interests not usually associated with her type of reserved character.
Lara Jean has quirks—such as a Golden Girls obsession and an aversion to driving—that make her so much more real. Since the characters don’t come off as caricatures, it is easier for a viewer to relate to and understand them. Lara Jean’s sister Kitty talks like a childhood best friend, and Peter, her love interest, dresses exactly like the boys at school.
What makes the movie even better is that the characters engage in relatable dialogue. Lara Jean and Peter’s conversations are hilarious. The chemistry between the two is built almost entirely on banter, which is a refreshing change from the movies in which the romance is only built on physical attraction. Since Lara Jean and Peter build a relationship based on words, their relationship is more raw and real. This realism is something that most teen rom-coms lack. The presence of an emotional component to the relationship is part of the reason that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” has ascended to such a level of popularity; most teens movie couples only show affection through ill-timed makeout fests.
Going beyond just Peter and Lara Jean’s dialogue, we see amazing relationships build between Lara Jean and other major characters. For one thing, we actually get to know her family. Her sisters are always there to talk with her, and her younger sister plays an especially important role in breaking Lara Jean out of her shell. .They are also distinctive characters with their own issues and insecurities.
Her father makes an appearance in many of the scenes to advise Lara Jean and provide comic relief. He gives his daughter the safe sex talk and makes her pose for a picture on her first day of school, all experiences that audiences may relate to yet are usually left out of movies. Oftentimes, families in teen films and shows forfeit depictions of family to make room for the love story, but the inclusion of Lara Jean’s family contributed to the genuinity of the film.
The fact that she had such strong friendships added yet another layer to the film. Lara Jean and her best friend Chris had stuff in common beyond just boys—he even had a personality outside of being Lara Jean’s sidekick. Screenwriters will usually leave out platonic relationships in teen movies, but “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” breaks the mold on this trope as well.
Some clichés, like the dead mother and the rude popular girl, did find their way into the fabric of the movie. However, the film’s success in breaking so many other tired Hollywood themes made it still feel fresh. The plot, dialogue and characters gave a new spin on the typical teen movie drama. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” garnered so much attention because it manages to stray from aspects of most stereotypical teen movies, all the while retaining its entertainment value and relatability.