As you may have heard, Netflix is having quite a summer of romantic comedies. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos recently boasted that Joey King’s “The Kissing Booth” was “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe in the world.” In June, “Set It Up” became a favorite with viewers, while the streaming giant included other offerings such as “Like Father” and “Ibiza.”
As the Netflix rom-com factory keeps churning, it’s easy for selections to get lost, though that is certainly not the case with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” about a teenager whose private love letters to her crushes are inadvertently delivered to their doorsteps. A mere seven days after its release, the film has whipped up an intense fan base and rave reviews. The unwieldy hashtag #TATBILB results in hundreds upon hundreds of tweets and photos as fans declare their love of the film and clamor for a sequel.
The chance of a sequel from Netflix is likely — the film is based on Jenny Han’s popular young-adult trilogy, so source material already exists. But, as happens with any hit, others in Hollywood will take notice as they inevitably try to replicate the success. And there are quite a few lessons to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film.
First, as many have noted, it’s an important reminder that your rom-com leads don’t have to be all white. Even though you might think that’s an obvious one, as it’s 2018 and there are many blockbuster movies that feature diverse casts, Han told People magazine that she had to turn down offers from studios that wanted Lara Jean’s (Lana Condor) character to be white, and not Asian American.
“It was a difficult position. You have to say no again and again,” Han said, adding that when she did find a production company, “the fact that the lead was Asian American wasn’t seen as a liability. It was something they were excited about.”
Another big lesson: Even though satire and snark are popular tonal choices, sometimes viewers crave a movie that’s just really nice. Sound boring? Really, it’s just refreshing.
This issue has come up multiple times in coverage of the film, as the most common descriptor is “sweet”: Vox praised “the unabashed sweetness of this movie, and the way it builds itself around nice people who care about each other and want to do nice things for each other.” While promoting the film, Condor noted, “there’s not a lot of just good-hearted movies.” HuffPost called out Lara Jean’s most significant crush, Peter Kavinsky, for his “bedrock kindness.”
And that’s another critical takeaway for producers and writers everywhere: Never, ever underestimate the power of a leading man who is simply kind. Kavinsky has become an Internet sensation — the Cut noted that he “has grown women actually running to IMDb to make sure the actor, Noah Centineo, is an appropriate age. (He’s 22.)” Netflix’s own Twitter bio currently reads, “this is now a Peter Kavinsky stan account.”
Sure, Peter is the typically handsome athlete; still, he’s sensitive, thoughtful and emotionally intelligent. At first, it doesn’t seem that way — when he receives one of Lara Jean’s letters, he comes up with their wacky scheme of pretending to date so he can make his ex-girlfriend jealous. But throughout the movie, he reveals himself as a genuinely good person, who has been pretty hurt by his past relationship, yet is mature enough to know that he has to process his feelings. He drives Lara Jean and her little sister to school. He goes across town to the grocery store to find the Korean yogurt drinks she likes. He never pressures Lara Jean, even when her first rule for the fake relationship is “no kissing.”
“Swoon. Sigh. Moon,” the Cut added. “It’s enough to make viewers wish they were a teenager again. If only all adults could correct everything they’ve done wrong in their lives, which is, most pressingly, not finding a Peter Kavinsky.”
Dramatic? Perhaps. But also, accurate! Other movies only wish that they could form this kind of personal connection with viewers. So hopefully, “All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” will not only help prove that rom-coms can command a devoted audience, but with just a few unique elements, they can stand out from all the rest.