To All the Boys I've Loved Before is a Netflix movie, which would seemingly disqualify it from being reviewed on In Reel Deep. But we may have reached the point of no return here; with Alfonso Cuarón's Roma a near-lock for a Best Picture nomination at the 2019 Oscars, it's time to embrace Netflix as a legitimate home for movies. And if we're going down that road, there's no better place to start than director Susan Johnson's adorable teen romance, a film that quietly embraces diversity while also telling a story for everyone.
Lara Jean (Lana Condor) stars as a teenager in love—she thinks—with her older sister's boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard). She's never been in a relationship, though, preferring to pen secret love letters to guys and then hide them away. When her sister (Janel Parrish) goes away to college and breaks up with said boyfriend, the letters are mysteriously sent and Lara Jean finds herself caught up in rumor and innuendo with not only Josh but local hunk Peter (Noah Centineo). And wouldn't you know it, soon genuine love starts to blossom.
It's nothing you haven't seen before, but it's done quite well. Johnson and writer Sofia Alvarez stick to the basics and pile on the charm, which is helped along exponentially by Condor's natural amazingness as a faux-confident teen. Everyone fits their role like a glove, including John Corbett as Lara Jean's dad and basically the most loving and wonderful parent in the world. It's almost shocking how much chemistry they all have, and not that shocking to hear that the sparks flying between Condor and Centineo may have gone from fictional to literal soon after filming.
It also helps that Condor, Broussard, and Centineo are blank slates to nearly everyone watching; this isn't Ryan Reynolds falling in love with Sandra Bullock. We can buy them as Lara Jean, Josh, and Peter without reminding ourselves who they aren't, an element of filmmaking we miss out on now that the same 25 people are in everything. Netflix is beholden to no one, which means they shouldn't feel the need to add stars for the sake of stars. They've already got Adam Sandler movies and Kelsey Grammer comedies all over their service; creating new leading men and women in buzzy little films should be their bread and butter.
Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to talk about Netflix's content without discussing their release strategy. It feels like they're employing two schemes: hook lazy people with big obvious options—Sandler, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Bright—or rely on social media chatter and word of mouth. Either way, unless you're really paying attention, most things just appear and it's up to us to hunt them down. It's an odd plan for a billion-dollar company that's in hundreds of millions of homes, but it does allow something like To All the Boys I've Loved Before to rise from the flat Netflix landscape with relative ease.
And it helps when the movie that rises is as fun as this. You can't fully quantify the impact of having a female director and female screenwriter, but it feels like they both leaned on what they loved about the teen romantic comedy genre and focused on crafting something cute, clever, and accessible. And to cast a Vietnamese-born lead who nails the role is, in the wake of Crazy Rich Asians, just icing on the cake. Netflix may not have entirely figured out its grand movie plan just yet, but To All the Boys is very much a step in the right direction.