A Comprehensive Review of the To All the Boys I've Loved Before Franchise
To All The Boys We’ve Judged
In 2018, Netflix introduced us to Lara Jean Song Covey, a sixteen-year-old girl who experiences romance through books rather than her real life. Lara Jean writes secret love letters to boys she’s had crushes on, assuming they’ll never read them. One day, her letters get out and Lara Jean finds herself thrust into the world of boys, dating and Noah Centineo’s Netflix rom-com career.
Note for the reader: This review contains extensive spoilers for all three films. So if for some reason you’re reading this without having seen the films, you’re not missing much.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
The only one where Lara Jean’s social life relies on the actions of a nine-year-old.
Dani: This movie would be exactly the same if Lara Jean wrote one secret love letter to Peter Kavinsky and nobody else. Peter still would have wanted to use her as a fake girlfriend to make Gen jealous and she still could have made friends with her gay sidekick who’s name nobody remembers. Why is Josh even in this movie? As the ex-boyfriend of Lara Jean’s sister who Lara Jean has secretly been in love with for years, Josh should be a lot more interesting than he is. He poses no major threat to Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship. Besides, Gen is already acting as an obstacle preventing Lara Jean from being with Peter so Josh just shows how bad Lara Jean is at any form of communication.
Rebecca: I wish I had a film like this growing up. As a Chinese woman, I’ve always just seen people that look like me be the quirky best friend or the nerdy classmate. While we provide comedic relief we rarely do anything more. To see Lara Jean as the leading female protagonist was overwhelmingly gratifying for me. Lara Jean’s ethnicity is never made the central plot or narrative of the story, instead it simply acts as a backdrop. I remember after the film was released a few of my pākehā friends wanted to try Yakult (because Peter Kavinsky now wanks on about it), so I took them to the local Asian grocery store. During our trip we bought a number of Asian snacks, the same snacks that I used to be so embarrassed of having in my lunchbox in primary. I’ll be honest the movie itself was kinda ehh, but it was nice to see some representation in mainstream media.
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
The one where we all collectively fall in love with John Ambrose, and Peter Kavinsky starts to resemble a thumb.
Dani: Why do all of Lara Jean’s exlovers disappear after their movie of significance? Josh is absent from this film with no explanation, despite finishing the first movie as her close friend and next-door neighbour, which proves how irrelevant he was in the first place. But does he move away? Does he reschedule his life around minimising interaction with Lara Jean? The same fate befalls John Ambrose after he’s rejected outside the rest home and then never seen again. But where could he possibly go after that? Does he have to go back to serving punch to a room full of elderly folk who just saw him get rejected? Honestly, I’d skip the country – and the third movie – too if I had to endure that embarrassment.
Rebecca: John Ambrose is the physical embodiment of who 18 year old Rebecca thought she would fall in love with the moment she walked into her English lit class. Instead, the boys I met in university stunk of privilege and were only here as a passing stop before they got access to daddy’s trust fund. Let’s be honest, the two are just on the same wavelength. In P.S. I Still Love You Lara’s growing insecurity over Peter’s ex-girlfriend really starts to take a toll on their relationship. Lara Jean *pops on my BA hat* is blinded by fantasy, everything about John Ambrose makes for a perfect romance, their first kiss is literally straight out of a fairy tale. By choosing Peter, I guess Lara Jean is choosing a relationship that’s rooted in reality? Nah fuck it...I still choose Ambrose.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever
The one where Lara Jean really pulls out the “but I’m not like other girls” equivalent for her and Peter Kavinsky’s relationship.
Dani: How the hell does Peter get into Stanford? We don’t even know what he wants to study. Honestly, American universities make no sense. With Peter headed to Stanford and Lara Jean still uncertain, he repeatedly assumes that she’ll want to go to Berkeley to be at his beck and call. However, three movies in, Lara Jean has learnt to think for herself (shocking!) and decides that she wants to go to New York University instead. This leads to obvious tension, but why does Peter talk about breaking up at PROM? Don’t they still have the whole summer to spend together? At least in High School Musical they explained the premature college-related conversations as being due to Gabriella leaving for a fictional freshman honours program that ran over summer. Peter, on the other hand, is just breaking up with Lara Jean to be manipulative. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a fourth movie where Lara Jean falls for a quirky film student at NYU and suspects Peter of cheating on her with a blonde cheerleader. Troy Bolton would never.
Rebecca: I was excited for Lara Jean to explore her cultural identity and disconnect from Korea. But after five minutes of generic Seoul skylines we were back to America, never to mention Korea again. We did however get a 30 second monologue of Lara Jean telling Peter “how strange it was to have people talk to her in Korean and for her to not understand.” I guess that was all Netflix needed to get that intersectionality tick? We then spend the next hour and a bit building up the narrative that even if you love someone, sometimes you have to let that person go. Lara Jean realises her future lies away from Peter and Stanford and her desire to grow and discover herself and the world is all then brought crumbling down when she signs a contract to promise to stay with Peter via long distance. The movie then closes with the romantic notion that other long distance relationships fail because they just don’t love each other enough, dismissing the much healthier narrative of growth and independence and maybe that loving someone doesn’t mean holding them back. But hey, we’re not like other couples.