To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: Bringing back the rom-com

Romantic comedies are making a comeback.

Three decades after the now classic John Hughes movies and more than five years since “Silver Linings Playbook” was the last rom-com nominated for an Oscar, the genre is seeing a revival thanks to diversity in filmmaking and unlikely distributor support.

Films like “Book Club,” “Love Simon” and “Crazy Rich Asians” have sprinkled into theaters in 2018, but nowhere has the romantic comedy had a greater impact than on Netflix.

The latest in a growing line of rom-coms to hit the streaming service may in fact be the year’s best.

Based on the novel of the same name, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” takes everything audiences love about the genre and wraps it in a Hughes-esque bow to offer viewers a carefree, easily rewatchable film sure to entertain movie lovers of all ages.

In true rom-com fashion, shy high school junior Lara Jean crushes on cute boys but can’t bring herself to tell them. Instead she pens love letters stowed safely in her room….. until they are mailed out and typical rom-com hijinks ensue.

There’s no reinvention of the wheel here and much of “To All The Boys” is exactly what one might expect to happen. But even when audiences know where they’re going in advance, the ride is just so gosh darn enjoyable thanks to breakout performances from the film’s young leads.

Lana Condor has floated in the background of major studio films like “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Patriots Day,” but it’s with “To All The Boys” that Condor is able to spread her acting wings with a genuine, relatable performance not expected of a young actress making their leading debut.

Her Lara Jean is exceptional among wallflower characters, as Condor radiates Lara Jean’s presence scene to scene in a way that makes others take notice and not at the same time.

Often, viewers rally behind a protagonist because of the actor in the role. Condor isn’t playing Lara Jean. She (and the audience by extension) is Lara Jean.

The film finds unique balance for Condor’s performance in the casually charming Noah Centineo, a relative newcomer who brings emotional gravitas to the typically nothing part of the cute boy Lara Jean likes in spite of herself. There’s a palpable tension in scenes between Condor and Centineo that doesn’t pervade other sections of the film, as if to emphasize how intensely Centineo’s Peter is bringing out the true Lara Jean.

If Condor is the pulse of the film, Centineo is the heartbeat that brings “To All The Boys” to a higher level than the usual rom-com fodder.

This pair of fresh talent, along with first time screenwriter Sofia Alvarez and second time director Susan Johnson, give “To All The Boys” a light, breezy tone that would never pick up traction theatrically.

Major studios have proven less willing to commit financially to small or even mid-tier projects, spending all their capital on big stars, big explosions and cinematic universes.

Netflix has attempted to capitalize on this market inefficiency, scooping up rom-coms left and right in hopes of flooding the market and making the streaming service synonymous with the film genre.

Recent efforts have seen Netflix find various degrees of success with films like “Set It Up” and the recent Lily James romantic dramedy “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” striking a chord with audiences, while the star studded “Like Father” proved to be a slight misstep.

Netflix also aggressively went after distribution rights to box office smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” a film that highly benefits from being seen on large screens due to the luxuriousness of Singapore and the visually lavish cinematography.

In much the same way, “To All The Boys” is much more suited for the small screens of Netflix as the film’s conversational tone and simplistic cinematography feel more at home on a mid sized television or cell phone.

Ironically, it’s “To All The Boys” that is the better overall film, packing the emotional depth and well-written script “Crazy Rich Asians” lacks.

One of the year’s best films, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” deserves a place at the top of any Netflix queue.

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