Netflix Movie Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

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Accused of having "the references of an eighty-year-old woman," sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) is a heroine after my own heart. An avid reader of romance with an overactive imagination and a passionate sensibility, Lara Jean is the second of widower Dr. Covey's (John Corbett) three tight-knit girls living in Portland, Oregon.

Opening the night before her beloved big sister, Margot (Janel Parrish) is slated to leave for college in Scotland, in the beginning of director Susan Johnson's first rate adaptation of Jenny Han's eponymous young adult novel, Lara Jean watches in shock as her sister breaks up with her boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard).

Still carrying a torch for the boy next door who was her best friend long before he became Margot's beau, even though she knows she'd never hurt Margot by confessing her feelings to Josh, the emotional upheaval throws her for a loop nonetheless.

Intelligent and resourceful, fortunately we discover that the introverted Lara Jean has developed a secret system for dealing with this very issue by writing an epic love letter to the four other boys for whom she'd fallen before. With a total of five letters hidden inside a hat box in her bedroom closet, Lara Jean is horrified when they're put in the mail and sent to the five objects of her past (and neighborly present) affection.

Hoping to avoid the emotional landmine waiting for her if she has a heart-to-heart with Josh (as well as Margot), she improvises the best way she can – grabbing and kissing Peter (Noah Centenio), the past crush nearest her – when Josh catches her line of sight, letter in hand.

Conveniently brokenhearted himself after getting dumped by Lara Jean's best friend turned frenemy Gen (Emilija Baranac), Peter agrees to help her out and hopefully make Gen jealous at the same time. Falling back on the familiar romcom trope of the “fake couple,” the two create a contract of rules and promises from no kissing to films they must watch, which is where a majority of the fun begins in this adorable teen romance.

Needless to say, given the aforementioned summary, Johnson's sophomore directorial effort is far more complicated than most grown-up romcom fare. However, right from the start of this instantly likable and surprisingly sophisticated feature, it's obvious that to her credit, Boys was made with the utmost of care.

From the attention to detail displayed in the intricate design of Lara Jean's colorful books and knickknack filled cozy bedroom sanctuary to the warm atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest setting (complete with a Gilmore Girls like diner), the film welcomes viewers to the fully realized world of author turned executive producer Jenny Han's YA series with ease.

Free of the rude humor usually relied upon in the romantic comedy genre, Sofia Alvarez's well-written, fast-moving, laugh out loud script is compelling enough to attract viewers of all ages. Suitable for tweens on up, despite some sexual references, To All the Boys I've Loved Before is vastly more wholesome than a majority of small screen teen shows.

Filled with an affable young cast, including our MVP lead Lana Condor who handles a wide range of emotions from embarrassment to determination admirably, Boys is so entertaining that I watched it twice in the months leading up to this review.

Referencing Sixteen Candles onscreen, it's evident that – although it will delight fans of '90s and '00s contemporary teen classics from Clueless to Mean Girls – much like those movies, on page and screen alike, the storytelling building blocks and the filmic roots of Boys can be found in the universally appealing era of John Hughes.

Coincidentally released on the very same weekend that another Asian-American film hits the big screen (in the form of Hollywood's splashy adaptation of Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians, which marks Tinseltown's first Asian-American film in twenty-five years), Boys makes a perfect stay-at-home follow-up film to create a Crazy romantic double feature.

The second female helmed title (after Lauren Miller Rogen's Like Father) and third terrific Netflix original (also including The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) to hit the streaming site this month, To All the Boys I've Loved Before is further proof that for women in the summer of 2018, some of the most entertaining filmmaking is happening on your TV.

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