I will always kind of believe that reviewing a Netflix film for my Tuesday review is something of a cop-out. It doesn’t feel as though it takes much effort and, as we’ve come to see, most Netflix original films aren’t that great. Netflix does something things amazingly well; documentaries; animated shows; reviving old comedies; and stand up specials. What it hasn’t yet nailed is films. Some have worked really well. Okay, I mean Okja was worth watching and others were enjoyable enough. But the majority of films I’ve watched in the last few years have been disappointing or just ridiculous… I’m looking at you A Christmas Prince. So when Netflix announced that it was adapting the hit YA romance novel All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a book I’ve seen all over Instagram in the past but dismissed it due to it’s awfully clichéd romance cover and my horribly judgmental personality. But I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the film version so I had to check it out. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be for me. Any teen movie not starring Chad Michael Murray and Hilary Duff will feel right.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is the kind of basic teen love story that I can completely understand being the kind of thing young women would adore. The character at the centre of the tale is Lara Jean Song Covey, a teenager who is on the outskirts of the popular High School circles but who is, in her own way, quite cool and carefree. She’s the kind of person lots of viewers would want to associate themselves with. The kind of person they could see themselves in. She’s nice but sassy. She sticks up for herself but isn’t overly bitchy. She’s perfect. And, to top it all off, she’s clueless and unlucky when it comes to love. These YA writers really do know the audience they write for. Introverted, bookish women, desperate to find love and possessing their own quirky style. Tick, tick tick, tick.
Lara Jean spends her days reading trashy romance novels but has never really moved beyond the realms of epic crushdom. The biggest and most significant of which she has on her older sister’s boyfriend Josh Sanderson. Instead of dealing with these crushes, Lara Jean writes a letter to the recipient of her feelings and puts them in a box. When these letters are mysteriously sent out to the boys in question, Lara Jean is faced with her romantic past coming back to haunt her. Things get more complicated when one of her other crushes, Peter Kavinsky, a popular jock, decides to use it to his advantage. Peter intends to make his ex-girlfriend jealous by convincing Lara Jean to pose as his new girlfriend.
Officially, there’s nothing particularly wrong with All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a fairly agreeable and inoffensive romantic comedy. The cast is charming enough to carry it off and the narrative is sweet enough. It’s also relatable for its intended audience. It deals with a lot of issues that teenagers will understand in a way that isn’t too cringeworthy. It’s a film that knows what it wants to do and just gets on with it. It just unashamedly goes after it’s premise and doesn’t let up until it gets to where it needs to go.
However, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before also isn’t a particularly good movie. Yes, it’s kind of comforting and charming but a lot of that comes from the fact that it offers no surprises. You can tell where this is heading by watching the first half of the trailer. You can tell where it’s going to end up by reading the brief synopsis on the Netflix home page. It’ not really an original or intricate plot. We’ve seen it done a thousand times before. Sometimes better and sometimes not as good. But enough times that it just feels like we’re all going through the motions. I didn’t really need to pay attention to this film. I could have put it on in the background, let it play, and still known what happened by the credits rolled. It’s really frustrating.
It just feels very superficial and bland. There’s nothing very interesting about the way this film has been made or the way it plays out. The pacing is all over the place and we never really get to know the characters. The central love stories aren’t developed and there is a whole bunch of untapped potential between Lara Jean and her family. The characters feel like they’ve been carefully created for its YA audience but this never feels too grounded in reality. It’s that frustrating Hollywood trope where nobody talks to each other in order to drag out the drama. All The Boys is just meh. I didn’t hate it but it won’t stick with me. But maybe I’m the wrong audience?