In addition to Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians releasing in theaters, the movie adaptation of Korean American author Jenny Han’s book To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before will be streaming on Netflix August 17, 2018. With an Asian female-led cast this movie is making just as much of an impact as Crazy Rich Asians and I’m so excited to see some different representation on screen.
This teen romance follows the story of Lara Jean Covey or LJ (Lana Condor), a biracial Korean American teen whose seemingly normal life goes haywire when her secret love letters get sent out to five boys. This would be a nightmare for almost anyone, especially the imaginary romanticist like Lara Jean. How she overcomes her dilemma and falls in love for real is both hilarious and inspiring and will leave viewers of all ages with important lessons to take away.
Besides the inevitable love pentagon Lara Jean finds herself in, this movie is filled with gems.
First, we have the sisters’ unbreakable bond. One of the boys to receive a love letter happens to be her older sister Margot’s (Janel Parrish) boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard). This causes some tension between all three sisters but multiple times throughout the movie they can put their petty issues aside and stand together. As three girls growing up without a mother, their relationship and influence on each other are extremely important to them, and it shows with each sister’s actions, even the youngest bratty 11-year-old sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart).
Secondly, the way they address loss in this movie I find really important. So often we see young adult media where there is a single parent but the effects of this are readily ignored. Both LJ and Peter (Noah Centineo), another letter recipient, live in single-parent households, one from death and one from abandonment, but neither have issues discussing their pain in an open and healthy way. I really relate to both Lara and Peter, and the solace they find in each other is admirable.
Furthermore, the subtle addressing of social issues in this movie is phenomenal. From calling out the racism in 80s movies in their disgusting portrayal of Asian characters to dealing with slut-shaming and comprehensive sex education. When older sister Margot relays to LJ that “it’s never worse for the guys” I felt like I was talking to my sister and friends. And I truly appreciate the gynecologist father who is not afraid to be open with his daughters about menstrual cycles, love, and safe sex. This movie doesn’t beat you over the head with wokeness but instead realistically portrays issues that teen girls are going through all over the world.
As to be expected when condensing a sizeable novel, the pacing of the movie is a little bit off. And you don’t get the full romantic growth that eventually buds between Lara and Peter like in the novel. Their love is still believable, however, and you root for them to figure it out.
My only criticism of the movie is a minuscule moment between the sisters that you would only notice as a book reader. When Margot comforts her sisters after the big climactic moment in the movie she says the words “Covey Girls forever”, but in the book, the sisters frequently refer to themselves as the Song Girls. It’s an important way in which they connect with their deceased mother who gave them the moniker of her maiden name as well as their Korean heritage. A lot of the moments that seemed to be cut from the movie are those that deal with the girls’ Korean identities. Maybe it’s not a big deal but the erasure felt deliberate and left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Overall, the movie is cute and I would 10/10 watch again. It ends with a cliffhanger of another letter recipient arriving at her door, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Burchette) which only alludes to more drama for LJ to wade through. I can definitely say he is my favorite boy of all Lara’s boys and you won’t want to miss what’s next.
What I’d like to see most in the sequel (Netflix, I hope you’re working on it right now!) and hopefully the third movie is a full embracing of the Song girls’ Korean identity. I look forward to how New Year’s will be portrayed because in the book it’s a full celebration with traditional dress, activities, and their mom’s side of the family. These elements are essential parts of the characters’ personalities and motivations, includng their dad, and it shouldn’t be erased.