Netflix UK film review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Ivan Radford | On 18, Aug 2018
Director: Susan Johnson
Cast: Lana Condor, Janel Parrish, Israel Broussard, Anna Cathcart, Noah Centineo
Watch To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before online in the UK: Netflix UK
After Set It Up and Like Father, Netflix continues its enjoyable current run of original films with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a teen flick that’s fresh, funny and guaranteed to be an instant summer favourite.
The film, which is based on Jenny Han’s bestselling novel of the same name, is a wonderfully charming rom-com that, like the best of the genre, makes the unrealistic feel entirely relatable. Lana Condor stars as Lara Jean, the middle child in the Covey family, who has a habit of writing letters to the boys she crushes on. The catch? She signs and seals them, but never delivers – they’re hers to keep hidden in a box in her room.
It’s a peculiar quirk, but one that, in the case of her first crush, makes a lot of sense. The guy in question is Josh (Israel Broussard), the boy next door and her former best friend, until he and her older sister, Margot (Janel Parrish), hooked up. Even with them breaking out and Margot moving away, Lara can’t face having a conversation with her sister about her secret feelings.
Disaster strikes, though, when all of her letters are mysteriously sent in the post, winging Lara’s swooning sentiments to five boys across town. When Josh tries to talk to her about it, she takes desperate measures and clamps her lips on Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), another of her crushes to receive a letter. He, meanwhile, is going through a rough patch with Gen (Emilija Baranac), the popular girl in Lara’s class who used to be her best friend, but now hates her with a passion. And so they strike upon a deal: pretend to be an item to save her from Josh-related humiliation and make Gen jealous enough to want Pete back.
That’s a lot of set-up for a lightweight comedy, but it’s testament to just how lightly done it is that you don’t notice. That’s partly thanks to the script, adapted by Sofia Alvarez with a witty shorthand that conceals exposition and character expression in short snippets of screentime. It’s also thanks to the cast, who are uniformly brilliant and bring enough depth to their performances that everything rings true. Israel Broussard is kind and supportive as friendly neighbour Josh, while a heartthrobbing Noah Centineo peels back unexpected layers to his jock, who initially appears to be chalk to Lara’s cheese. Even Emilija Baranac’s mean girl mines a bathroom encounter for more weight than most other films would even consider, let alone attempt.
The soul of the film, though, is its delightfully realised trio of Covey sisters, with Janel Parrish’s Margot providing a wiser, more experienced source of advice than Anna Cathcart’s amusing, excitable younger sibling, Kitty. Between these two distinct characters, Lana Condor shines in what is destined to be a major breakout role: she’s smart, shy, awkward, offbeat and endearingly sincere all at the same time, a mix that Condor balances with humour, hope and heart-wrenching anguish. She has sparky chemistry with everyone, from BFF Sam and Trezzo Mahoro’s Lucas, another of her crushes, to Peter, who emerges as a surprisingly plausible love interest. It’s because of her winning turn linking the whole ensemble that even the most predictable plot beats are still entertaining.
Director Susan Johnson helms it all with a polished confidence, sweeping from laughs and pop culture references to teens fainting and social media scandals without dropping the pace. The editing is quietly slick, match-cutting using objects like feet to join scenes together, while Johnson includes camera shots from inside lockers to part one squabbling couple visibly, with metal lines and boxes. Like John Hughes, whose Sixteen Candles gets a namecheck, and her own Carrie Pilby, there’s empathy behind Johnson’s filmmaking: the film understands the pangs and innocent mistakes of young love, and how much bigger those problems can feel when they’re tied to those close to us; it respects the catharsis that putting Lara’s feelings into words provides; and it celebrates the positive force of family with rounded, convincing people and dynamics.
The result sits alongside Love, Simon this year as a growing generation of high school movies that reflect what real life is actually like, not only in terms of diverse casting and choice of stories but also in terms of honest, feel-good emotions. The really feel-good news? The novel is the first of three books about Lara Jean Covey. Start writing your letters to Netflix now to ask them to complete the trilogy.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.