Yeah, Okay, I Finally Watched TATBILB


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by Jacob Wallace

The first rom-com I really got excited for was Hitch, and it was because of freakin’ Kevin James. Part of the reason might have been that I had grown up watching movies like 27 Dresses and Made of Honor with my sisters, and I was craving a male — everyman protagonist. But more importantly, that movie formed a connection for me between the easy resolutions of sitcoms and the heady optimism of the romantic comedy.

Like many, I grew up taking a lot of cues from the media I consumed, and sitcoms were my steady social diet. Since we didn’t have cable until I was 13, and The Simpsons was strictly forbidden, my sisters and I would gather in the afternoons after school got out to watch network sitcoms like King of Queens, According to Jim, and My Wife and Kids. Why my mother thought those shows would be any less brain-rotting than The Simpsons is truly beyond me.

Over time, I went from mindlessly consuming network sitcoms to following slightly more well-regarded fare, such as How I Met Your Mother and Parks & Recreation. As I entered high school, I briefly took up the Bro Code as a serious code of morals to follow, only to realize after a couple of years that a satirical social code constructed by a fictional womanizer was more a nest of toxic masculinity than a path to a successful romantic life (I’m still unravelling that mess). Both shows gripped me because I loved the characters and I wanted to see the couples end up happily together.

With all the sitcoms I watched, too, I developed an insatiable taste for comfort. What’s more comforting than seeing characters regularly come to a neat resolution to their life’s problems? Sitcoms provided in my childhood what I think rom-coms do as well, albeit in a briefer form: they convince me that things are going to be alright. It’s an irresistible form of optimism, and one that I realized was shared by both sitcoms and rom-coms.

When To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before came out, it did more than just provide a resolution to the conflict in its plot: it seemed to provide an answer to the real-life question of whether Hollywood had left behind rom-coms and their old, problematic tropes forever. Along with Crazy Rich Asians, Set It Up, and Love, Simon, the movie has seemingly proven that there’s still a huge market for these kinds of films, if not on the part of studios than on the part of Netflix, whose modern studio system style of movie production allows it to churn out these rom-coms far more effectively than Matthew McConaughey ever could.

The particular success of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before lies in the ways in which the movie deconstructs and then reconstructs the path that’s been written towards an ideal romantic happy ending. There’s been some talk in the blogosphere about the contract written by the two protagonists and how setting rules is a prime way of introducing the tricky concept of “fake relationships” in a way that still has explicit boundaries set up informed by consent. That’s a huge issue, and one of the biggest obstacles for rom-coms (and sitcoms — looking at you HIMYM) in the post-MeToo era. Of course, that’s only a big obstacle if you think writing consent into your movie is difficult.

What’s so great about the inclusion of the contract that Laura Jean and Peter Kavinsky draw up early in the movie is that it actually ends up creating narrative tension and excitement for the movie down the road. When the two finally kiss for the first time for real, the payoff feels that much bigger because they are moving past the boundaries of their contract in a way they’re both on board with. By taking that next step (in a hot tub no less - steamy!) at a time in which they’re both comfortable, the viewer feels that much better and surer about the romance implied in the kiss. It just hits different.

Consent is, of course, only part of the reason this movie goes down so easy. From the Wes Anderson-lite style of editing, to the palpable on-screen chemistry of Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before just exudes cuteness. And it does so in a way that goes beyond a lot of the fairly rote or perfunctory editing that characterizes a lot of rom-coms in the past.

A cinematic moment, honestly.

A cinematic moment, honestly.

In truth, my biggest complaint about this movie are the stakes, though that’s only because the “Fake Relationship” trope is so well-trod and the characters are so well-spoken (for teenagers but also just for human beings) that I never really believe things are going to end poorly.

Then again, we don’t necessarily watch rom-coms for the high stakes, do we? We watch them because the actors are pretty, and because their relationship has crazy romantic plot points that we could only dream of in our own lives, and because we love love. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is comforting, and reassuring not just as a rom-com but as a sign that the genre itself can still be relevant in the post-McConaissance era. This movie is just freakin’ good, and if you still haven’t gotten on board at this point, you’re behind the times.

Possible Netflix Categories: Gen Z Rom-Coms, Movies that Seemingly Only Endorse Interracial Pairings, BDE

Rating: 5 💌out of 5 💌