Dear To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018),
I’ve been trying to piece you together for quite some time now. It’s nothing to do with your plot—the story is so clearly written it’s impossible to not understand. It’s about the fact that I have watched you three times in the past week, and I still haven’t gotten tired. Every single time, you have me glued to the screen, anxiously watching as if I didn’t already know the ending by heart.
I should be over you by now. Instead, I find myself falling again and again for Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a sixteen-year-old girl who writes love letters to all of her crushes and keeps them to herself. There are five in total, and one of them is addressed to Josh Sanderson (Israel Broussard), her childhood best friend and her older sister’s boyfriend. She never planned on sending them, but when Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), one of her former crushes, approaches to tell her he doesn’t feel the same way, she realizes: the letters are out.
So, you see, your story follows a traditional teen rom-com recipe: a relatively unpopular and romantic girl, a cute jock for the lead, a possible love triangle, and lots of drama. You do stand out in some ways: Lara Jean, who is half-Korean in the novel you’re based on, is played by an Asian actress, which is a major progress towards representation in Hollywood. You’re also gorgeously shot, with shades of blue and green in almost every scene, and the indie and pop soundtrack that immediately got added to my Spotify playlist. But, as much as I love all of that, casting choices, background music, and aesthetics have barely anything to do with the storyline, and it would be too easy to cite those as the reason for why you became an instant fan-favorite.
There has to be more than that, and I think I’ve figured it out: it’s Peter Kavinsky.
Peter is the stereotypical jock with the heart of gold, but there is something to be said about how he affects Lara Jean throughout the story. As Lara Jean struggles to figure out how she’ll deal with Josh knowing about the letters, Peter proposes that they pretend that they’re dating each other. This way, her problems with Josh will be solved, and Peter will be able to make his ex-girlfriend, Genevieve (Madeleine Arthur), jealous. Throughout their fake relationship, the two end up getting close, and develop real feelings for each other.
However—and this is the most shocking thing to me—Lara Jean doesn’t change.
She does end up falling for Peter, but she is still the same girl from the beginning of the movie. She still watches old movies and shows with her little sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart). She still goes to the same diner and orders the same drink. She still reads the same trashy romance novels, even though she now has a real-life romance of her own. She even wears the same combat boots that Genevieve humiliated her for in the beginning. Lara Jean might wear her hair down more and have a different phone lock screen, but she is still the same person.
Why does that matter so much? I have to tell you something about me: growing up in the early 2000’s, I watched a lot of teen rom-coms. However, I struggle to recall one where the protagonist didn’t change completely, especially in appearance, by the end of the film. Even one of my long-time favorites, The Princess Diaries (2001), had that flaw: it could tell me all it wanted that Anne Hathaway’s romantic partner saw her even when she was invisible, but frizzy-haired, glasses-wearing, younger me couldn’t ignore the fact that he only admitted that after she straightened her hair, put on some contacts, and became a literal princess.
Lara Jean never tries to look like someone she’s not, and Peter doesn’t mind. He still uses her as a human pillow, drives her and Kitty to school in his Jeep, talks about “the real stuff”, and goes all the way across town to get her her favorite Korean yogurt.
There is one way in which he does change her. In the final scene, Lara Jean drives to the lacrosse field where Peter is practicing so she can give him a letter. However, Peter returns it to her. If she wants him to know what she wrote, she has to tell him in person. After a lot of fidgeting, she admits that she likes him, and not in a fake way. In response, he says he’s in love with her.
It’s perhaps not an epic rom-com finale, but it highlights the biggest development in Lara Jean’s character: she is brave enough to tell someone how she feels about them. Peter, despite helping her get to that point, also understands that this is a big deal for her: he’s not bothered by how she says she “likes him,” and he straight up admits that he’s “in love”. He doesn’t push for more than what she’s willing to give him.
This is what makes you, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, such a good movie. You have a protagonist that must learn something that will improve her character, but she doesn’t have to change who she is in order to do so. You have a romantic lead that helps her along the way but doesn’t ask for anything else in return. Plus, they look ridiculously cute together.
In the end, isn’t this the case for so many of us? Who hasn’t loved someone from afar but never told them because they were scared? And who hasn’t wished to be loved—romantically or otherwise—for who they truly are?
So, really, all I have left to say is thank you. Thank you for melting my cynical heart, for making me want to laugh and cry at the same time, for making me wish a Peter Kavinsky will enter my life. Thank you for giving me a film that Younger Me really needed. Thank you for reminding me of all the people I’ve loved in secret, and for encouraging me to be a little bit braver next time.
Image Credits: IMDb