The Netflix romantic comedy To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has officially broken the internet, and rightfully so. Even the most cynical viewer can’t help but be charmed by this movie. The film is based on the popular young adult novel of the same name by Jenny Han. Despite having a formulaic plot structure, the characters are so relatable and realistically portrayed, that the whole narrative feels fresh. Lana Condor plays the main character Lara Jean Song Covey. When Lara Jean’s love letters to past crushes get mailed out by her sister, she ends up in a fake relationship to ward off her sister’s ex-boyfriend. Noah Centineo, who plays the main love interest Peter Kavinsky, has been crowned the internet’s latest boyfriend, a title previously held by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael B. Jordan. This little film has taken over pop culture within the first week of its release on Netflix.
Part of what makes Lara Jean so relatable is her family dynamic. Lara Jean lives with her white, American father and her two sisters. They all have to deal with the death of Lara Jean’s Korean mother several years before the events in the film. The way Lara Jean’s heritage is portrayed throughout the film is incredibly realistic. The movie doesn’t centre on Lara Jean’s heritage, but her Korean heritage is simply part of her everyday life, like it is for most people. This was a conscious decision by Jenny Han. In an interview with Vulture, Han explained, “Being Asian-American is obviously a part of my identity, but it doesn’t encapsulate Lara Jean’s whole identity. I think oftentimes, when you see a story about a person of color, it ends up being about that person’s struggle with being a person of color. I wanted that to not be the point of her story.”
The first scene that features her family is one that many multicultural families can relate to. Lara Jean’s father is attempting to make a traditional Korean dinner for his daughters. He does a really bad job, but he is actively trying to keep his late wife’s cultural traditions alive. Food plays a major role in all cultures, and you see Korean food throughout the entire movie. Lara Jean and her sisters often drink yakult (a popular yogurt drink throughout East Asia), and Lara Jean is surprised that her love interest drinks kombucha. In the same interview with Vulture, Han described how she envisioned the Covey family kitchen, “There were little things here and there where I wanted to be sure it felt like an authentic Asian-American family. I would say things like, “Can we make sure there’s a rice cooker in the kitchen in the background?”
There are many other details in the film which reflect Korean customs. One that most Canadians share, is taking your shoes off when entering the home. People always leave their shoes on in American television and film, and it’s another note that Jenny Han gave the director, “I happened to be on set on the day that we were filming one of the opening scenes, and Lana was lying in bed with her tennis shoes on and her feet are against the wall. I was like “Can you please take her shoes off because I don’t think that would fly.”
Although the film does not deal with a lot of racism head on, there is one scene that points out the nuance of racism in real life. Lara Jean is watching Sixteen Candles with her little sister and Peter. Peter calls out the inherent racism in Long Duk Don’s character. Lara Jean agrees that it is racist, so Peter asks her why she loves the movie. This scene is so realistic. Many people see their own culture stereotyped in television and movies, but it doesn’t stop them from liking the work as a whole. It’s just one of the ways we feel little acts of prejudice and learn to accept them, though thankfully this seems to be changing.
One of the most meaningful aspects of the film is that the main character is played by an Asian American actor. Jenny Han wrote a piece in the New York Times about how almost all of the studios who wanted to adapt the book into a movie wanted to white wash Lara Jean’s character. Only one studio, the one that produced the film, agreed to keep Lara Jean’s Korean heritage and cast an Asian American actor. About the process, Han wrote, “Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.”
As much as Lara Jean’s Korean heritage is not the main focus of To All The Boys I’ve Love Before, representation still matters. Lana Condor, has spoken about how fans have been thanking her for her portrayal of a main character in a teen romantic comedy. Representation is a big deal, if you don’t see yourself reflected in the world around you it can feel like you don’t belong. Jenny Han wrote about why she was so adamant that Lara Jean be played by an Asian American actor, “Because when you see someone who looks like you, it reveals what is possible. It’s not just maybe I could be an actress. It’s maybe I could be an astronaut, a fighter, a president. A writer. This is why it matters who is visible. It matters a lot.”
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is currently streaming on Netflix.