Based on Jenny Han’s best-selling YA novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows Asian-American teen Lara Jean Covey through her tumultuous junior year in which she goes from wallflower to the girlfriend of the most popular jock in school. But it’s not exactly the dream scenario it seems, thanks to some embarrassing letters and a secret scheme.
Lana Condor stars as Lara Jean, a shy girl whose favorite hobby is reading romance novels, or imagining herself in one. Though she’s invisible at school, Lara has a rich inner life, where she indulges in her crushes by writing them deeply vulnerable love letters she never intends to send. She likes to keep them, reread them and relish the memories of that spin-the-bottle game, that homecoming dance, that camp crush. But when these letters make it out into the wild, Lara fears her quiet life will come crashing down, especially if her true feelings for Josh (Israel Broussard) come out. See, Josh isn’t just the dreamy boy-next-door, but also her big sister’s ex-boyfriend. Think that’s complicated? Just you wait.
To convince Josh the letter is old and doesn’t reflect her current romantic interests, Lara Jean makes a deal with another recipient of a letter. Peter (Noah Centineo) is a popular lacrosse player, not her type, and the on-again-off-again beau of her former BFF, Genevieve (Emilija Baranac). He wants to make Gen jealous. Lara Jean wants to convince Josh she’s totally over him. So they decide to pretend to date, complete with butt-squeezing PDA, publicly passed love notes, and a steamy ski trip. It’s a seemingly solid plan until this clever girl starts falling for Peter for real. And who could blame her? Noah Centineo has the look and vibe of a young Mark Ruffalo!
The movie itself is fun and winsome. Condor is a compelling leading lady, who manages Lara Jean’s excruciating awkwardness as well as her flights of romantic fantasy. The script by Sofia Alvarez is jaunty and sweet, being sure to shape not just its heroine and love interests, but also the family who surrounds and supports her. And director Susan Johnson has brought together an affable cast and a breezy tone. John Corbett is adorable as Lara Jean’s loving dad. Janel Parrish brings a deft confidence as older sister Margot, and little Anna Cathcart offers a blithe moxie as kid sister Kitty.
Things get a bit clunky as references to John Hughes movies are wedged in. (We don’t need you to repeatedly have characters reference Pretty in Pink to see its influence.) This overeagerness aside, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a satisfyingly charming and romantic comedy about teen love and tough realizations. But Almost-Ruffalo is its very best bit.
Despite him popping up on a slew of TV shows (Austin & Ally, Shake It Up, The Fosters), I’m new to Noah Centineo. So he was an absolute surprise to me here. There are plenty of cute boys in teen movies, but few have this kind of charisma that makes them perfectly crush-worthy. It reminded me of watching Heath Ledger in Ten Things I Hate About You. He’s not just roguishly handsome, but playful and funny with a dynamic energy and a bit of a wild streak. All this brews to make a perfect first-boyfriend fantasy, the kind you dreamed of as a girl and the kind you may still reminisce over. This makes To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before a total treat and a perfect pick for a night of Netflix and Girls Night in.
Make it a DIY double feature with Ruffalo’s 13 Going on 30 or Just Like Heaven. Then tell me Noah Centineo isn’t Ruffalo’s long-lost clone.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before hits Netflix on August 17th.
Header Image Source: Netflix