On paper, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a standard YA romance movie. It’s chalked full of tropes, general high school cheesiness and sentimentality. However, having a non-white cookie cutter lead has an impact that is felt throughout your viewing experience.
The Netflix original movie, based on the novel by Jenny Han is stealing hearts and views. It revolves around the romantic escapades and life of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), who is half Korean and half American. Lara Jean being mixed race in the movie is never highlighted as a big deal or used as a plot point, but small traces of her Korean culture are scattered throughout the movie in the form of famous Korean skin care, yogurt drinks and pointing out racist caricatures in film.
Lara Jean is afraid of love and relationships, and instead of putting herself out there, she writes a letter to each of her loves instead, with the intention that they’ll never be sent. With the help of her sassy and mischievous little sister’s decision to meddle in to LJ’s love life, a complicated love triangle ensues. On one side, we have the caring and sensitive Josh (Israel Broussard), who just so happens to be her older sisters boyfriend and on the other, we have the most popular boy in school, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Fake relationships are formed, mixed signals are handed out and feelings are caught. The movie is almost formulaic to a tee, but with the strong performances of Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, it never fails to deliver a sense of genuine warmth.
Beyond all the boy drama, the movie focused on Lara’s relationship with her sisters. Having lost their mother at a young age, they became a support system for each other. It was refreshing to see their dynamic unfold in a realistic manner and emphasize the love the Covey sisters have for each other, even when one is in love with the other’s boyfriend and another exposes her sisters deepest secrets.
We are currently experiencing a wave of Asian-American romantic comedies, as Crazy Rich Asians is set to premiere later this month. While they may not be the best representations of the community they are small steps towards the idea that Asians are more than just stereotypes. Lara Jean is smart, but never nerdy, she’s pretty but not sexualized or dawning colourful locks and she is shy but determined at the same time. Most importantly, Lara is the lead of her own romantic comedy and not the quirky-diversity-quota-filling-BFF.
Nancy Wang Yuen, in her article for the HuffPost stated “…it makes a real difference when the protagonist looks like you. When I saw To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I felt seen for the first time in a rom-com.”
In terms of being a book-to-movie adaptation, it transitioned smoothly onto the big screen. The book had more depth with regards to Lara’s mother’s passing, the link to Korean culture and Josh was given a much bigger role but despite it not being entirely accurate, it is by far one of the best adaptations I have seen. However, the casting of the Covey sisters did cause a stir, particularly that of Lara Jean herself. The actress, Lana Condor, is of Vietnamese descent as opposed to Korean but the decision was defended by the author, Jenny Han (Korean American), who stated that having three Asian American actors play the sisters was quite progressive in its own right, as they could have easily been whitewashed instead.
This has been a topic of discussion here on Nerdy POC and as pointed out by Elena Zhang , “[Asians] are still the minority, we still don’t have many opportunities to have our stories told, and so when we do get that chance, it is important that it’s told in an authentic and sincere manner.”
Boasting a stellar soundtrack, John Hughes-esque aesthetics and just enough relatability and romance, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is well deserving of attention and praise. Hopefully, it can erase the sour taste The Kissing Booth left in our mouths and Netflix will sign on to produce its equally as adorable sequels.
Editor: Raissa Vasconcelos