Netflix Review – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Old Story, Updated A Little

I’m not a huge fan of “chick flicks,” but this one at least looked interesting based on the trailer Netflix showed me.

SYNOPSIS

Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) has a crush on her sister Margot’s (Janel Parrish) boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard), who is also one of her oldest friends. To vent her feelings over boys in the past, she’s always written love notes and not sent them, instead keeping them in a hatbox, so she does the same for Josh. However, Margot breaks up with Josh when she leaves for college abroad. To deal with her feelings, Lara Jean writes out another note for Josh (like a P.S.), deciding that she can’t date her sister’s ex, and puts the letter in her hatbox.

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Why she puts the addresses on them is not exactly explained. Nor is why they’re still accurate after years of sitting in the box. 

A few days later, another boy she had a crush on in the past, Peter (Noah Centineo), approaches her and says that he’s flattered, but doesn’t have feelings for her. She’s confused until she sees that he has the letter she wrote and put in her hatbox. Realizing that all of her letters have been mailed by someone, she sees Josh approach, but kisses Peter to dissuade Josh. Peter discovers that this has made his recently ex-girlfriend jealous, and the two agree to be fake boyfriend and girlfriend. They end up falling for each other because of course they do. Then, a misunderstanding drives them apart, because of course it does, then they get back together because of course they do.

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Yay, true… high school relationship that’s doomed unless there’s a sequel.

END SYNOPSIS

Okay, so, as you might have guessed from the end of my synopsis, this movie becomes so predictable after the first act that you could basically play Mad Libs with the same script that has happened in the past where a fake relationship leads to a real one. Think about Green Card, Shadowlands, The Americans, The Hunger Games, or Can’t Buy Me Love and its remake Love Don’t Cost a Thing. Those are just the ones where both participants know the relationship is fake, if I go to the ones where only one person knows, then this list goes on forever. The movie even points out how cliché the plot is at times, even if indirectly. The main character is a huge fan of John Hughes films, particularly Sixteen Candles (a hint at how Lara Jean is “saving herself”), so several of the tropes in the movie are actually discussed by the characters while talking about other films.

ToAllTheBoys-3SixteenCandles
AND PETER IS NO JAKE RYAN.

But, a lot of movies do this, obviously. Several of the movies I mentioned above follow almost identical plots or sub-plots in the abstract, but are still very different films. That’s because there’s a lot of stuff that can be done within the structure. When the movie starts, with all of the love letters to all of her crushes, and them getting sent out, I was hopeful that they were going to spend more time talking about how she’s gotten over some of the others or deals with them while dealing with Josh, but they really don’t. In fact, Josh mostly gets forgotten while they focus on Peter and Lara Jean going through all of the usual steps involved in this kind of movie.

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Also, can we please address that she keeps “her most secret possession” in the most obvious spot?

Then, they have to put in a “Third Act Conflict,” which here takes the form of a misleading photo of Peter and Lara Jean combined with Peter talking to his ex, that drives them apart until, unsurprisingly, they talk about it, realize that they’re being stupid, and end up happily. I would have been so happy if after Peter says “you just don’t understand the situation,” that Lara Jean paused and went “okay, I’ll listen, because this is a relationship and we should be able to give each other the benefit of the doubt long enough to hear your reasons.” Instead, as he is about to explain it, she instead says “I understand completely. This is over, in every possible way.” I wrote it down as a particularly bad line. He even offers to explain the whole thing right then, but she says she doesn’t want to listen. Now, yes, this is right after they first agree to “really” date, but it’s super weird that a character that knows films where this has happened doesn’t consider that might be what’s happening right now. That’s sort of the point of media: To show us things that we can learn from without having to go through them.

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Also, her big scandal is a photo of her kissing her boyfriend, while clothed, in a hot tub. I feel like that’s not exactly going to be huge news among people in a public high school.

Now, aside from that, I will say, this movie does have some pretty funny and sweet moments. Lara Jean’s likable and sweet, particularly as Condor portrays her. Peter isn’t super sweet, but he’s still a nice guy. Peter’s ex Genevieve (Emilija Baranac) is dislikable, so we don’t feel empathy towards her which might make us feel that Peter’s scheme to make her jealous is mean. In fact, Genevieve says the stupidest line in the film, complaining that Peter and Lara Jean kissed years ago, to which Lara Jean responds “That was spin-the-bottle!” Aside from that, a lot of the movie does come off as sincere in its emotions and the humor breaks were funny enough to keep me interested. If I was more into this kind of film, I probably would overlook the fact that it’s a massive batch of cliches. It just wasn’t made for me.

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The sister scenes were cute, except that the little sister suffers nothing for sending all of the letters in the first place. The movie even tells you her reasons were dumb.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just not that original. If you haven’t seen the other films it’s referencing, you’ll probably like it more. The one upside is that this movie doesn’t really have any notable characters that will later become regrettable signs of the times, like (as the movie points out) Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, so it’s a little less likely to later have uncomfortable moments. However, it doesn’t push any boundaries either, so I don’t know that it’ll be really remembered down the line. I’m told the book is better, which is probably true, so maybe read that, watch Pretty in Pink, and save this movie for when you’re not really paying attention too much.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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