Mini-Review: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (No Spoilers)

So, the Netflix teenage romance film ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (TATBILB), based on a novel of the same name by Korean American author Jenny Han, debuted on Friday, August 17th, the same opening weekend as ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ “Asian August” has been a busy month, and I’ve written reviews for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Searching.” Now finally, I will discuss this film.

To be honest, I had never heard of the book, author or film until I started looking on Twitter about Asian Americans being excited about both ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘TATBILB.’ Then I read this opinion piece in the New York Times the day the film came out on Netflix, by author Jenny Han, titled, “An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally,” in which the writer says,

When I sold my first middle-grade novel in 2005, it wasn’t that common to put an author photo on the back flap, but 24-year-old Korean-American me insisted. I wanted Asian girls to see my face. And more than that, I wanted them to see what is possible.

My young-adult novel, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is about a girl who writes secret love letters to boys when she wants to get over them. They’re for her eyes only — except one day, they all get sent out. Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.

I loved this and wanted to watch the film. I think with the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ hopefully the practice of whitewashing / racebending, which has been common in Hollywood productions in the past, might be fading away.

The Netflix description of the movie says, “When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, Lara Jean finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down.”

I enjoyed this teen romance film, but felt it was fairly predictable. What I enjoyed most was the very strong performance by lead actress Lana Condor, who is excellent playing Lara Jean.

The biggest criticism I’ve read, and I agree a little, is that none of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American, though one is an African American. The film takes place in the Portland, Oregon region, where the Asian American population is approximately 7 percent (Oregon overall is almost 4 percent).

When I grew up in western Massachusetts, there were very few Asian Americans in my high school and I didn’t have crushes on any of the Asian American girls, just some white ones. Given limited choices, that’s the reality.

IndieWire’s Hanh Nguyen interviewed who said, “I understand the frustration and I share that frustration of wanting to see more Asian American men in media. For this, all I can say is this is the story that I wrote.”

Nguyen continues:

Han’s novel doesn’t spell out the race of each of the characters, but some of the descriptions (i.e. blond hair) and the names read as typically white: Josh Sanderson, Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Kenny Donati, and Lucas Krapf. Furthermore, in the movie, four of the five boys are portrayed by white actors, while Lucas Krapf is renamed Lucas James and portrayed by black actor Trezzo Mahoro.

Maybe Han didn’t want to push her luck, given that she held steadfast on making sure that the girl was going to be an Asian American girl. But it’s still a little disappointing.

Other than that, I’d say the film is an enjoyable teen romance that most teenage girls would love. The film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with a total of 43 reviews).

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Author: John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)