*No Spoilers Ahead*
Based on Jenny Han’s novel, which I reviewed before, the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie premiered via Netflix on August 17 with the lovable, sweet Lara Jean played by Lana Condor and the handsome, charming Peter played by Noah Centineo. Although I read the novel before watching the movie, I will be reviewing the movie as a standalone for the majority of this post before linking it back to its source material at the end.
My expectations were fairly low when I first heard a movie had been made, and it only got lower after the trailers came out. That is why I was not particularly disappointed at the actual movie; rather, it met my low expectations. You can tell from that part alone that I did not find it to be a very good film. While I think teens, especially the ones who enjoyed The Kissing Booth, would enjoy this one, as well, I think quite objectively, the movie was poorly made overall.
Everything about the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie rubbed off as amateurish, particularly the directing and the writing. The two biggest flaws in the movie were the cinematography and the pacing, after all. Firstly, the cinematography seemed to be all over the place, like an excitable newcomer to cinema who wanted to put in every single cool-looking shot possible without having an overall vision, theme, or tone to the movie. Nothing was quite tied in. There was no consistency. There were normal shots, then a weird mix of creative shots like having Lara Jean show her profile with a lot of space behind her head that I believe was used only once, and ineffectually at that. There were weird, unnecessary zooms and angles. Then the coloring was all over the place. It would go from bright and warm tones to cool and dark, shadowy tones. Was there symbolism behind these random changes? Whether it was intentional or not, it only proved to be distracting and like they had no concrete handling of lighting.
The transitions are awkward and break up the flow of the movie—very much like when you go from one place to another in a game, like Sims or Nancy Drew. You will see one short conversation then too many seconds of the landscape before getting another short scene followed by another set of landscape shots. The characters themselves are rarely seen physically moving from one place to another. The locations are very small and set in place, so I don’t know why there are so many moving shots showing hills, trees, and empty streets.
Onto pacing, the movie blows through everything that happens in the story very quickly, leaving viewers with very little time to soak in what is happening or what emotion the characters are feeling before everything is overtaken with something else that is happening or another emotion the characters are feeling. It is a bit of a rollercoaster of a ride where everything is explored on such a shallow level as to leave no lasting impression. The movie is relatively short, around 90 minutes long. I am all for shorter movies, but this one wastes a lot of time on slow shots, a ton of narration, and unnecessary hallucinations or imaginations or whatever Lara Jean’s mind is going through. The movie attempts to make up for this by blowing through other scenes of actual weight. We go from one conflict to another in the snap of the fingers. People get over being mad or upset within the next minute–usually because something else comes up. It’s just a hot mess.
Due to this wonky pacing, there is no real development in the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter. The two have chemistry and are the most charming actors on set, yet their relationship does not develop in an organic, consistent way for me to buy into how they feel for each other. Everything is montaged or narrated over with a few instances of the two characters getting into deep conversations about family and love. You see Peter give Lara Jean one note, and then at the end, there are all of his notes. Just sitting there randomly, making some important point or revelation. I had completely forgotten about the notes at this point.
This leads me to characterization overall. The two are charming, but their characters are not fleshed out, and everyone else around them are one-dimensional caricatures. For example, Lara Jean is constantly described as someone who is shy and doesn’t talk much. However, in every instance of conflict or confrontation, she speaks her mind with no hesitation and is rather sassy about it. The movie tries to make us buy into her being an invisible introvert or book nerd when, actually, she’s quite a feisty little thing. Peter is charming and likable, but is the typical misunderstood jock who says “Whoa” so many times that if CinemaSins ever does this movie (please don’t), they need a bonus tally at the end where they count up every “Whoa” he utters. To be honest, I liked the “whoa’s” and thought Centineo did a good job with the charm and sensitivity of Peter, but it was a bit much near the end.
Otherwise, the dad is just the embarrassing but understanding father; the older sister (who just looks way too old to be a college freshman and date Josh with his baby face) is barely there overall; Kitty is the mischievous youngest sister; Genevieve behaves like the stereotypical bratty girl in a terrible Disney original movie; Chris is the plain weirdo dressed in black; and Lucas is the wise and fun gay friend. No one stands out and they all act awkwardly. To be fair, I think part of the problem with their portrayals is probably the direction they received as well as the awkward lines and story development (re: just not the best production quality overall).
Now in relation to the book, the problems I had were unnecessary changes in small details that would not have mattered either way, as well as how the characters were translated for the big screen. Lara Jean in the novel was very girly and introverted, a sweet-natured girl who cares a lot for other people, does not stand up for herself, and is fine blending into the crowd. Lara Jean in the movie wears a lot of makeup (I’m sorry but I found her fake eyelashes so distracting), is sarcastic and sassy (under the guise of being “such an invisible nerd”), and does not show much of a caring tendency for people around her (which was a huge part of what made her character lovable in the novel). I find her a lot more self-centered in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie than book (not saying she is self-centered in general but in comparison).
I think this could have been helped if the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie focused more on her relationship with her sisters. A big part of the reason readers loved the trilogy was the Song girls and how they were extremely close. We don’t get much of this in the movie. We don’t see how Margot acts like the mother to the two of them, but with her departure, Lara Jean tries to take over as the new mother for the sake of Kitty when Margot leaves. I personally did not like how they made Kitty older than she was in the book. I did not like Margot’s casting; Janel Parris looks too mature (and too cool?) for the part. I did not like how the dad went from a nice, quiet dad who likes documentaries to the typical goofy and embarrassing one that gives his daughter rubbers. I did not like how Josh’s relationships to the family and Margot were brushed over; it made him seem too insignificant and random.
Okay, I’m done. To conclude, I’m sure there are lots of people squealing excitedly over the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie. It really wasn’t bad, but it really wasn’t good, and I don’t see myself ever revisiting it. It just does not feel like a movie that is complete, well written, or professionally filmed. I can see younger fans liking the movie with the charming characters and lighthearted portrayal of young love, but I will stick to the books for now.
I belatedly realized what other stuff was missing! We don’t get enough insight into the past! Lara Jean has history with both Gen and Peter, but we don’t dive into that. Even her relationship with Josh could have been explored more since they go way back. This would have helped in the character and relationship developments.
Another important key is Peter’s flaws. Although typically easygoing, he has an ego that gets bruised easily, which is something Lara Jean quickly recognizes and often comments on in the book. Movie Peter was really just… basically a charming, nice guy. He didn’t have any flaws like the book one did.