Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is too slight and trivial even by teen movie standards, but I’m hoping it will make its young viewers talk to each other more. So many misunderstandings and rumours in Sofia Alvarez’s stalled screenplay would’ve been squashed if people had stopped their worrying and had simple conversations with other characters.
I’m unqualified to comment on whether or not the film is faithful to Jenny Han’s YA novel, but I feel as if I’m allowed to criticize how often Alvarez and director Susan Johnson cut corners to make their movie work. For instance, to make this story flow without much resistance, adults are nonexistent. Except for John Corbett of Sex and the City fame, who seems to indifferently shuffle in front of the camera whenever the film needs to provide exposition for his daughter, the film’s leading wallflower Lara (Lana Condor). Lara, however, is keeping a secret that Corbett doesn’t know: she’s the author of several love letters that are anonymously distributed around her school without her permission. The recipients are male crushes from her past (including her older sister’s recent ex-boyfriend), who all react in different ways when they read Lara’s infatuated feelings.
Peter Kavinsky (Noah Contineo) is the only guy to really act on this awkward situation. After some bargaining, Peter convinces Lara to take part in a romance that’s artificial to them but has the power to deflect any future problems the letters might initiate. Their “relationship” will also keep Peter’s judgmental ex at bay (and drive her crazy with jealousy).
Aside from some momentarily sweet alone exchanges between Lara and Peter, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is inconsistent mush that deliberately dumbs itself down for no other reasoning than to spoon-feed teen viewers and pass as “fluff”. This isn’t the first Netflix teen movie to distil its content (#RealityHigh, You Get Me) which, to me, sends out a disheartening signal that the platform isn’t ready to take their adolescent subscribers seriously. To give credit where credit is due, the film at least sticks to an age appropriate range that’s suited for its intended demographic (translation: this is a light PG-13). However, the maturity of the narrative does not match at all.
Teenagers deserve better than this.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie