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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Embraces Vulnerability

To+All+the+Boys+I%27ve+Loved+Before++stars+Vietnamese-born+American+actress++Lana+Condor+who+plays+Lara+Jean.+%28Courtesy+of+Facebook%29
To All the Boys I've Loved Before  stars Vietnamese-born American actress  Lana Condor who plays Lara Jean. (Courtesy of Facebook)

To All the Boys I've Loved Before stars Vietnamese-born American actress Lana Condor who plays Lara Jean. (Courtesy of Facebook)

To All the Boys I've Loved Before stars Vietnamese-born American actress Lana Condor who plays Lara Jean. (Courtesy of Facebook)


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By Taylor Shaw

I am what an individual might call a hopeless, helpless romantic. When watching, and re-watching, sappy high school rom-coms, it’s fair to say that I love the moments that make most people cringe, and I live for the moments that most people love. So I don’t say it lightly when I say that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the best teen rom-com I’ve seen in the last decade.

At first glance, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB) tells the story of a teenage girl whose life is shaken up as her five top-secret love letters somehow end up in the hands of her crushes. Directed by Susan Johnson and based on the book by Jenny Han, TALTBILB features protagonist Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) who finds herself navigating the confusion of a fake relationship, evaluating complicated ex-friendships and missing her older sister abroad in college.

However, there is more to the movie than typical clichés and high school drama. For starters, Lara Jean is confident, interesting and sure of herself from the beginning of the movie. She is quiet, hesitant and cautious when approaching relationships, but she is not insecure about herself, and she is comfortable standing up for herself and expressing her opinions. (Spoiler!) Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), Lara Jean’s fake boyfriend, does not come in and drastically save or change her. The two teach one another and grow with each other, but Lara Jean’s characterization is never reliant upon a “Prince Charming,” providing a refreshing breath of relief in a world of “damsel-in-distress” rom-coms.

In fact, while Lara Jean’s story is a romance, it is also extremely family-centric. Her entire fake relationship stems from her desire to emotionally protect her sister. Both Margot (Janel Parrish), Lara Jean’s responsible, put-together older sister and Kitty (Anna Cathcart), her sassy, occasionally meddlesome, younger sister, are strong supporting characters. The sisters are each other’s closest friend and give each other necessary pushes out of their comfort zones.

Not only are the sisters supportive of one another, they are also supportive of their father, who is a single-parent after the loss of their mother. Much like Kat Stratford’s father in 10 Things I Hate About You, the Covey father is a male gynecologist, but rather than an abstinence-crazed, protective father, Dr. Covey takes a more progressive approach. In a funny, modern scene, we watch Lara Jean and her father talk about her sexual health, a simultaneously awkward and endearing moment, in which Dr. Covey provides his mortified daughter with condoms. He is supportive of her from the beginning of the story to the end, and his character adds an additional presence to Lara Jean’s story.

Additionally, the cast is diverse. Lara Jean is Asian American and Han emphasized the importance of this casting choice in an interview with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show:” “That was what her spirit was,” she said. “It didn’t have anything to do with the plot… it’s not about cultural identity, but it’s a part of her identity.” Han articulated the importance of Asian American representation in the mainstream media and wanted an Asian American girl to star as the lead in her own rom-com.

Of course, I can not gush over this film without gushing over the male lead, Peter Kavinsky. Unlike many lead male characters in rom-coms, Centineo plays a boy who is not damaged; he does not need to be changed, fixed or softened. Kavinsky is truly nothing special outside of the fact that he is cute, in mannerisms and looks. That is his charm. He is reliably nice and generally adorable. He respects Lara Jean’s boundaries and rules. He builds a friendship with her little sister. He travels across town to buy her favorite Korean yogurt smoothies. He’s nothing remarkable; he’s just endearing and heartwarming.

Han and Johnson create the kind of story that makes you feel warm without feeling guilty. The characters are not caught up in whimsical stories, they are grounded in reality. If you were to check under my bed, you could probably still find the notebook of letters I wrote (but never sent) to boys in high school. The movie focuses less on the social hierarchies of high school and more on the individuals experiencing high school. They worry about love and loss, and they relish in the confusion of growing up.

Towards the end of the movie, Lara Jean’s sister asks her why she addressed the letters if there was no part of her wishing to send them. In high school, we are all waiting to see when we will grow into who we truly are, and for Lara Jean, the letters held the vulnerability she needed to get to where she wanted to be. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before reminds us to act on those vulnerabilities and to put faith in our hope.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before stars Vietnamese-born American actress Lana Condor who plays Lara Jean. (Courtesy of Facebook)

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Embraces Vulnerability