Written by Thaïs Cardon |
You’d be forgiven for distrusting Netflix’s teen flick abilities, and not giving To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before a shot based on your impressions on, say, The Kissing Booth, or Insatiable. The former shows toxic gender-role and relationship stereotyping, and the latter has a whole other range of problematic stereotypes revolving around – but not limited to – fat-shaming (just read Perry Wyatt’s review of the show).
I won’t lie, I watched “The Kissing Booth”. It was a guilty pleasure, and I don’t regret it, though I won’t watch it again. But as someone who’s seen the effects of eating disorders on close ones, Insatiable is a pretty massive faux pas, and quite hard to forgive.
But, being the hopeless, fantasy-land-dwelling creature that I am, the trailer of this new, high-school, pastel-toned rom-com appealed to me. Not least because writing letters to people I liked without ever posting them is exactly the type of thing I would have done when I was younger.
Only I, too, have two sisters, and I’m not as trusting as Lara Jean – I would have burned them and scattered the ashes, before leaf-blowing them into the sunset for good measure.
I deeply relate to Lara Jean’s unwillingness to crack out of the comfortable shell of home and pyjamas for parties, relationships and risks. I even relate to her fear of driving (not something you see very often in American teen movies). You can pinpoint who we are by how much stuff is in our room, because we spend so much of our time there.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is for all those of us whose exciting lives have mostly been in our heads, who’ve wished they could break through a wall of uncertainty and into an effortless social and love life, and so who’ve become experts at distracting ourselves and moving on in our own ways. Be it by reading through the night, taking up a new hobby, or writing love letters that will never see the light of day. Lara Jean is the one who got out – her younger sister sees an opportunity to break her out of her shell, and it all miraculously turns out fine. (More fantasy fodder for the rest of us).
Unlike The Kissing Booth and Insatiable, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before hits the spot without turning to problematic tropes featuring toxic masculinity, shy mousy characters who don’t stand up for themselves, and dramatic and life-changing makeovers.
We’re still pitting female characters against one another, sadly, but I count it as a win that there’s no “you’re not like other girls” lines or ‘Cool Girl’ trope involved. Lara Jean is quirky but feminine, an outsider but friendly, clever but not stereotypically nerdy. It revolves around a very familiar ‘fake relationship’ trope, so it hasn’t exactly revolutionised the genre of romance. If you liked The DUFF, it’s definitely got a similar rhythm – albeit with an ending a lot less cliché.
At a time where representation and consent are becoming increasingly important aspects of entertainment, this film gives us a rather quiet, perhaps even uneventful Rom-Com that won’t change the world, but is achingly relatable and easy to watch.
Above that, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a love letter to those who still live in their comfortable shells – and it’s beautifully unproblematic.