Teen Romance films are a very tricky thing to do well. This is largely because there are a series of expected tropes that are frequently used and often lead to a predictable and largely dull movie. They also have to portray what it means to be young, to be a teenager in high-school and devoid of many life experiences. Most often the story is generic and the players are caricatures that perform the roles audiences and the genre have set for them. Am I writing all this because To All the Boys I Loved Before defied convention and produced something thoughtful and consistent? Not really, but there are some good things about this movie.
To All the Boys I loved Before is about a teenage girl Laura Jean who wrote three letters to each of her crushes as a way to move on yet also recognize why she liked them to begin with. It’s private for her and exists to the knowledge of no one. Then someone mails the letters and chaos ensues. The idea of someone’s privacy being disrupted like that and having other people learn her personal feelings is a pretty good premise. Having your romantic feelings towards various people being released to them is very embarrassing and would be a shy teenager’s nightmare scenario.
There are aspects of this film that are very interesting but tend to get swallowed by the genres conventions and expectations. Loss is a persistent theme throughout the movie and acts as way for characters to bond an open up to each other. But this is constantly under-cut by clichés and never truly takes the focus is should. This is to the film’s detriment as the only engaging conversations in the film deal with this theme heavily, but they are far and few between.
The safety of fiction and the fear of being left alone is where the theme of how loss can affect people shines brightest. Real world relationships are scary and using escapist fiction as a way to experience them is dangerous. Laura Jean is a character who lives in bubble essentially, with the story focused on bringing her more in touch with the reality she lives in.
I laughed far more than expected when watching this film, with some scenes being absolutely hilarious. However those moments of great laughter are rare in this movie as the gags fall flat most of the time. Where the film succeeds comically is when it uses humor akin to The Office, where the sheer awkwardness of the situation brings out the laughter. Most of the film’s humor is, however, found in bad jokes and tired comedy tropes.
The acting in this film was, for the most part, above average with Lana Condor giving a consistent and entertaining performance as the film’s lead. The other actors do fine jobs with their roles, though each one varies in terms of depth. The requisite mean girl character in this film was poorly written with bizarre motivations that make this uninteresting character come off even worse than she already did.
To All the Boys I loved Before is not a particularly notable film, though it does entertain and provides an interesting look at the affect of loss. Sweet and with characters audiences can root for, fans of the genre will enjoy this movie.