When it comes to its slate of original movies, Netflix seems to want to be all things to all people. That’s all well and good, but so far it’s led to a bit of an identity crisis: Just what is a Netflix original movie? The streaming service has churned out reams of films that have yet to make much of an impression other than its sheer quantity. Its latest offering, Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is a lightweight teen rom-com that isn’t likely to clear up anyone’s grasp of what the studio stands for, but it is breezy and charming enough to merit a watch contingent on reasonable expectations.
Based on a 2014 Mean Girls-adjacent novel by Jenny Han, To All the Boys… stars Lana Condor (Jubilee from X-Men: Apocalypse) as Lara Jean – a hip, Asian-American high school wallflower who has a crush on her older sister’s boyfriend (Happy Death Day’s Israel Broussard). It’s hard to call Lara Jean’s desire unrequited because she’s too scared – and too loyal to her sister – to let him know, even after her sister packs up and heads to college, leaving them with lots of time together. Lara Jean has written letters to him, but she’s never mailed them. Actually, she never even meant to mail them. But then her little sister (Anna Cathcart) decides to take Lara Jean’s stalled love life into her hands and delivers them.
Meanwhile, to make her crush jealous and think of her as more than just the younger sister of his ex, Lara Jean enters into a contract with a recently dumped hunky jock at her school (Noah Centineo, channeling a young Mark Ruffalo) to act as boyfriend and girlfriend. The sham arrangement will, of course, be familiar to anyone who’s seen 1987’s far raunchier Can’t Buy Me Love. And even if you haven’t, you can be sure it’s only a matter of time before their romantic charade turns into the real deal.
To All the Boys… is strictly Disney Channel stuff, but it’s got more substance than you expect. And Condor as Lara Jean has a winning, be-true-to-yourself sense of independence that’s infectious. The addition of Sex and the City‘s John Corbett as Lara Jean’s widowed dad whose heart is always in the right place doesn’t hurt either. With all of Netflix’s poorly curated offerings, it’s possible that To All the Boys… will get lost, relegated somewhere between Cars 2 and Babylon Berlin in the ever-helpful “Things you might like” ghetto. That would be a shame, especially if you have a teenager trying to navigate her way through high school. B