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'To All The Boys I've Loved Before': A nod to simpler times

Asmara Wreksono
Asmara Wreksono

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, August 26, 2018  /  11:57 am

The ideal first love situation would be having a crush on someone and that someone responds accordingly so the crush develops into a romantic relationship and everyone lives happily ever after. However, that’s not the case with Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor), a high schooler who prefers to tell her crushes about her feelings in the form of love letters she writes and keeps in addressed envelopes, stored in a hat box somewhere in her messy room.

What happens when the letters she wrote get sent mysteriously to each and every boy she ever had a crush on? Disaster. Oblivious Lara Jean is confronted by resident jock-slash-heartthrob, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), who receives her love letter and claims that he has no feelings for her. After passing out briefly due to the shock, Lara Jean spots her neighbor-slash-sister’s ex boyfriend-slash-longtime crush Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard) approaching with a recognizable envelope in his hand. Severely afraid to confess her feelings to Josh, Lara Jean takes the easy way out: She kisses Peter, who surprisingly kisses her back.

With Lara Jean desperate to pretend she doesn’t have feelings anymore toward Josh and Peter wanting to make Genevieve (Emilija Baranac), his ex-girlfriend, jealous so he can win her back, the two agree to get involved in a fake relationship. A contract with do’s and don’ts is drawn and signed by both parties. The real question now is: Will they be able to maintain the conditions in the contract and overcome the storm when real feelings take over?

The new Netflix original To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, adapted from a best-selling novel of the same title by Jenny Han, is probably one of the sweetest, most respectable teen movies of 2018. Lana Condor delivers a flawless performance as an insecure middle-upper class teenager, as well as Noah Centineo, who portrays a seemingly fictional "sensitive" jock.

While the story line is perfect for its genre, one thing that stuck out from the movie is its beautiful filmography that, almost like other teenage-centric Netflix originals, longs a bit too much for the 1980s and 1990s era. It seems like the success with Stranger Things has started a retro trend, and while the styling impeccably blends in with today’s technology, jargon and real-life conditions, it does make several Netflix originals look rather uniform. Take the streaming service’s new series Insatiable and the provocative 13 Reasons Why. Is this the new visual comfort zone? Maybe.

Read also: At vintage drive-in theaters, the romance isn't yet dead

The Asian representation in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before deserves applause. In light of the success of Crazy Rich Asians, Asian-Americans are gaining momentum in Hollywood. However, something was off in the decision to cast Janel Parrish as the oldest Covey sister. Of course, the sisters are meant to be half-Caucasian, so not all family members are expected to look Asian, but that’s not the real problem. In the first scenes, where the Covey family sits down for a meal, I honestly thought Margot was the mother. While 21-year-old Lana Condor is believable as an 16-year-old, 29-year-old Janel Parish definitely cannot pull off being 18.

The movie’s attempt to touch base on being Asian also feels a bit off as so many opportunities to poke fun at being half Asian is missed. Kimchi references are expected as the Covey family is half Korean, and the rarely mentioned Yakult drink is a mini success. However, these tiny details are broken with very American carrot snacks and the fact that Margot slips into Lara Jean’s bed covers with slippers on. Not to be super petty, but this is cringeworthy to most Asians for sure.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before shines a good amount of light on how teenage romance flicks can still maintain their innocence. After the portrayal of sex, drugs and hard issues like suicide and mental health that have relentlessly graced the PG-13 Netflix screens lately, it’s just a breath of fresh air to watch very "light" teenage issues, like having secret crushes and fake relationships.

The air of nostalgia is not only brought by the styling of the movie, it’s also how slipping your hand inside your girlfriend’s back pocket signifies your status as a couple, how wearing your girlfriend's scrunchie means you’re totally an item and how a movie night in means watching double features at home with popcorn and your little sister joining in; funnily enough very anti-"Netflix and chill".

To those who are way older than 16, the movie is a sweet reminder of simpler times, and to those who are around the target audience age, it sends the message that it is perfectly OK to be "regular" in terms of being in a relationship in the age of Instagram expectations and vicious Snapchat videos.

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