Okay I’m just gonna go ahead and say it — the movie version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was better than the book. You heard it here first (maybe not), from someone who normally swears by the book > movie school of thinking.
Tiny confession: the first time I attempted to read Jenny Han’s Young Adult lit bestseller, I couldn’t get past the second chapter. Call me a jaded college student — there was something about her sugary-sweet writing style that seemed detached and unrelatable. Lara Jean was supposed to be 16, but to me she sounded like an 11-year-old, talking about boys with the same excitement she had for unicorns or glitter.
Public sentiment eventually got the better of me, and after seeing it on yet another Recommended YA list, I caved and gave the book another shot. It turns out that all I had to do was set aside Lara Jean’s cringey voice in order to appreciate the plot for what it was. And really, how can you go wrong with a story about a girl who writes letters to her past crushes over the years, only to have them mysteriously mailed out to said crushes one random day in junior year? Said girl is Korean-American, not exactly the type to have a lot of friends, and she enjoys baking and spending time with her family. She also sucks at driving. So, you know, totally my drift.
Much of the film struck me as very John Hughes-esque visually (those colors! that setting!), but it had all the humor and chemistry I loved from the teen romcoms of the early/mid-2000s.
The film adaptation of To All the Boys, directed by Susan Johnson and written by Sofia Alvarez, got rid of everything I didn’t like about the book while still retaining all its best parts. Certain scenes that seemed highly unlikely on paper actually played out pretty well on screen. When Peter (Noah Centineo) confronts Lara Jean (Lana Condor) about his letter, I had to pause and mentally prepare myself for the secondhand embarrassment.
Much of the film struck me as very John Hughes-esque visually (those colors! that setting!), but it had all the humor and chemistry I loved from the teen romcoms of the early/mid-2000s (we’re talking Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants or Emma Stone in Easy A). The kilig and humor was just that good.
Mad props go to Lana Condor and Noah Centineo for making the Lara Jean/Peter K romance so likeable. Lana’s semi-raspy voice narration gave Lara Jean an air of maturity that I think was missing from the book. She seemed less ditsy, more determined. Noah Centineo as Peter K made the sensitive jock trope his own, probably making introverted girls everywhere wanna look for their own Peters. Anna Cathcart played Kitty (the only character I liked in the book) to the T — her interactions with John Corbett as their gynecologist dad conveyed the fun family dynamics that we honestly need more of in movies about high school.
At its core, the film is a reminder that sometimes, it’s better to say what we feel instead of keeping everything in
If anything, I think that the film’s only fault was that it didn’t give enough importance to Lara Jean’s older sister Margot (Janel Parrish) and Josh (Israel Broussard). This Josh erasure might be off-putting to some fans of the book, because he seemed less cute nerd, more creepy soft boi. It didn’t help that the movie leaned more towards Peter, deeming the Josh vs. Peter argument irrelevant. Which honestly wasn’t a problem for me because Lana and Noah had really good on-screen chemistry.
For those buckling up for a light romcom with The Kissing Booth-level fluff, I’m sorry to disappoint. At its core, the film is a reminder that sometimes, it’s better to say what we feel instead of keeping everything in. It’s a lesson that I wouldn’t have gotten from reading the book alone. The YA/Netflix gods pulled through big time — never would I have thought that a book I used to hate would be the source material for my new favorite teen romcom.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has earned a spot on my recommended list, a fine example of how source material isn’t the end all be all for adaptations and that all it takes is a bit of tweaking to let a good story shine.