Today in Caitlin Continues to Avoid Juana Inés, I watched Netflix’s adaption of Jenny Han‘s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before—and, to my surprise, I love it so much. It’s the best thing ever! Or at least the best teenage rom-com ever. (And now I can say I’ve finally watched it, since I neither read it nor watched it before this booklist!)
I empathize more than I’d thought I would with awkward teenage Lara Jean. Like, I had a lot more in common with her (ahem awkward love letters, thank God most of mine never got anywhere) than I might wish to admit—though she is, unquestionably, way more popular than I ever was. (I’m far more popular and on fleek now as a 32-year-old librarian than I ever was as a teenager. I am still neither particularly cool nor particularly on fleek; I just don’t really give a damn anymore.) And, as someone who once spoke baby Korean—because all my friends did—it was particularly affecting to see an interracial family presented as normal. (Right down to Kitty whining about their dad’s attempts at Korean food.)
And what a normal family it is, too (despite the mansion). The family dynamic in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is incredible. The family relationships are real, and believable (points for the attempted sibling murders there, very relatable—I especially loved Margot demanding the unicorn). The father-daughter(s) dynamic is also probably the healthiest one I’ve seen on screen in ages. The sex talk is terrific (best part: the giant megapack of condoms). Chris’s lecture about male gynecologists is pretty rad, and also something I’m pretty sure I did. (I got nastier and sneakier about it as I got older, but I didn’t stop.)
I don’t often get to see family relationships portrayed in any kind of healthful light on screen—I mean, think Juana Inés for an example there, ranging from Leonor Carreto to Juana Inés’s futzed-up family life, or think Marvel’s The Runaways, where the nicest parents are actually just as whacked out as all the rest of the cult—and it’s really exciting to see a family portrayed, at least for the length of time of the film, as a functioning, screwed up, deeply loving whole—albeit a whole that is missing its heart, in the form of the girls’ late mother, Eve Song. (This is probably one of the best-done dead mother tropes I’ve seen, but: ugh, dead mothers. On the bright side: a mostly competent, loving single father is a definite win.) I’d love to see more films with tough girls (Chris is hella tough) and dreamers and loving families, because we surely don’t get those enough.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t perfect. I mean, honestly, I’m pretty sure Margot looks older than I, and she’s not only supposed to be 18 but is played by an actress two years my junior. So that’s a bit off. On the other hand, the brutal verbal beat downs between our main characters and their nemeses are, unfortunately, all too real: we’ve all been there, especially those of us who were way low on the pecking order. (I mean, I was so low I didn’t even register, so I learned to look blank and pretend I didn’t hear anything or anyone.) But it is, I think, one of the best movies I’ve watched in a while, deeply satisfying even to a 30something cynic, a beautiful image of teen horror (I mean, beautiful now that I am so not a teenager anymore, thank God) and of the love of family and of friends. I wish that more films were allowed such depth, even in the heart of their bubblegum mansions.
It’s a perfect movie for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month—and now, it’s time for me to read the novels.
Because I don’t think I’ve ever watched the movie first before. Oops.