Are you sick of talking about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before yet? No? Good, because we certainly aren’t. Netflix’s adaptation of the best-selling YA novel was a much-needed shot in the arm during a dark year as well as another boost to the long-awaited rom-com revival. How could you not instantly fall in love with such a perfectly composed display of unabashed sweetness, a throwback to the prime of the romantic comedy that still felt fresh for modern audiences? Sometimes, all you need is two adorable people in love, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before offered arguably the cutest pair of them all.
Much has already been written about the chemistry between Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, who play Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky in Jenny Han’s story of young love, secret letters and fake dating that quickly becomes so very real. It’s a film where the stars aligned with enviable precision and gave the people exactly what they wanted at a time when it was desperately needed. The rom com genre has been treated so derisively for so long that many of us had come close to forgetting the simple joys of it, not to mention the deceptive difficulty of portraying an appealing cinematic romance. This is a cinematic romance for the Instagram age: Adorable, youthful, modern, and aware of its public appeal.
The success of the film has see Centineo and Condor’s stars rise. Condor currently has 5.6m followers on Instagram while Centineo has 14.1m. in an industry where social media popularity is its own lucrative form of capital, these numbers are incredible. For comparison’s sake, Nicole Kidman only has over 2m followers on the site. This kind of Insta-boost has followed other Netflix rom-com teen stars, such as the stars of The Kissing Booth. For the younger generation, of which both Centineo and Condor are a part of, this navigation is par for the course. These are platforms that are far more popular with their age demographic than anyone older than 25. But with this surge comes a new kind of fervent attention that it’s doubtful either actor expected.
But of course, it’s not the star of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before who’s reaping the most benefits from this boost.
Centineo is the heartthrob. He’s the baby Mark Ruffalo who’s the proto-typical teen idol: Cute, attentive, and safe. There’s a reason the big star for teenage girls right now is Timothée Chalamet, as it was River Phoenix over 30 years ago, as it was James Dean in the 1950s. I’m sure there are plenty of young women who find each of these men to be sexually thrilling but their inherent appeal is much more rooted in sweetness than sex. If you’ve ever seen Big Mouth, you’ll know the fantasies that Missy has about Nathan Fillion, ones that are more about imagining great romantic stories than moments of true passion. That’s basically the Centineo appeal. He’s the guy girls can imagine full dates with and lots of hand holding and it feels approachable in a way that’s more understandable to adolescent women than, for lack of a better term, just going at it.
The thing is that Centineo is 100% aware of this image and is savvy in his harnessing of it on social media. Sure, he’ll post the occasional thirst trap with a shirtless pic on his bed but the image is more about pensiveness and looking cute than being sexy. The typical Centineo Instagram post is him with flowers and good lighting accompanied by pseudo-inspirational quotes that are the social media equivalent of ‘Hey girl’. He and Condor also post lots of pictures of themselves together, which delights their followers who just want more of Lara Jean and Peter. When he posts pictures of himself with his arms wrapped around Condor and the caption, ‘She melts my heart’, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Centineo also benefitted from having another Netflix rom-com get a release shortly after To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sierra Burgess is a Loser didn’t get the same level of hype or reviews but it was enough to strengthen his image and cement his teen heartthrob status. He’d been popular on the Freeform show The Fosters but the one-two rom-com punch gave him clout as the sort of leading man we don’t make a lot of these days: Part grown-up Disney Channel star, part boyband idol, part Tumblr icon. He is, as noted by The Cut, a shameless heartthrob.
He’s also a cute young white boy with nice hair and a popular Instagram account in a business where that speaks louder than mere talent. It’s of no surprise to anyone that, despite Lana Condor being the star of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, it’s Noah Centineo who came out of that movie with the most attention on him.
As many have already pointed out, it’s transparently unfair that Lana Condor hasn’t been given the same kind of attention that Centineo has received since the film premiered. Finally, a young Asian woman gets a leading role - something that is depressingly rare in Hollywood - and even though the film is a rousing success, the benefits don’t seem to be hers to reap. A lot of this is rooted in good timing - Centineo seemed to be a free agent once the film was released while Condor was already committed to the SYFY show Deadly Class - but even the headlines and celebrity coverage seemed greatly uneven.
Condor is as good as Centineo at using her To All the Boys image for publicity but her approach to fame is different from his. It has to be. He can post thirst traps but their shared audience expert something else from her, so her Instagram is mostly photos from professional shoots or promotional material. She keeps it personal with cute captions and is as aware of her shipper bait appeal with Centineo but there’s less of a structured image for her to lean into. If he’s the heartthrob, what is she?
Well, she’s a wonderful actress, an immensely charming on and off-screen presence, an absolute beauty, and one of the public faces of the revival of an entire cinematic genre as well as the commercial power of Asian-Americans in Hollywood. Cute boys are always distracting but surely we can return our attention back to the real star for a little while? It would be a shame if producers and studios saw the excitement over To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and decided the lesson to take from it was to offer more attention to the cute white boy.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.