What would you do if you had a crush on a guy? Would you tell him? OK, what would you do if you had crushes on five guys?
Well, my name’s Lara Jean Covey, and I’m still trying to figure that one out. Typical teen, I suppose. You see, I’m not afraid of love. Well, I’m not afraid to read about love or dream about love. But I am afraid to actually be in love.
Turns out, it’s much safer to just write long love letters and then hide them (and my feelings) away in my closet. Unless your little sister finds them and mails them out, like mine did—then you’ve got a real problem.
But it’s not all bad. I guess. I mean, Peter (the most popular boy in school and one of the guys on my crush list) did just ask me if I want to be his secret, fake girlfriend to get back at his ex.
I said yes. I mean, we made a contract outlining all the specific details of our fake relationship. What could go wrong? You can’t fall in love with someone if it’s only pretend … right?
That introduction gives you a taste of what it’s like to be in Lara Jean Covey’s head. Boy crazy? I guess you could say that. But while she might seem quite flighty in some ways, Lara Jean’s got her head screwed on reasonably well in others.
While Lara Jean dreams about being in love, she’s not anxious to rush into physical experiences with guys (which I’ll talk about more below). She’s also quite observant. She watches older sister Margot’s relationship with her boyfriend (who, it turns out, is also one of Lara Jean’s five crushes); and she tries to understand the meaning of love, rejection and moving on when a romance doesn’t work out.
We also see that Lara Jean, Margot and little sister Kitty have a great father who loves and supports them (despite some morally suspect counsel at times, as we’ll see). We learn that their mom has died, and it’s suggested that their dad has placed a lot of responsibility on the two older girls. Whereas some teens might have pushed back, the Covey girls unite to form a kind, cohesive family bond. They’re able to speak openly with one another, and they share the kind of honest connection most of us would hope to have in our own families.
Lara Jean and Peter have a lot in common, and they’re able to share some difficult details of their lives with one another, something that the film presents as a positive thing. They listen to each other, and we watch as they gradually move past the shallow details to discover who the other person truly is. They’re able to discuss family issues (such as Lara Jean’s mom passing), as well as the realities of trusting and liking someone. Lara Jean admits that dating, in real life, can be scary.
Lara Jean doesn’t allow others to steamroll her. And she eventually realizes that her choices really do have a real impact upon those around her, even in moments when she feels invisible.
Lara’s little sister, Kitty, mentions “the sacred goddess within.”
As I mentioned above, Lara Jean wants to save sexual experiences for the right guy and the right time. (Though the “right time,” unfortunately, isn’t clearly linked to marriage.) Even after signing a contract with Peter to be his “fake girlfriend,” she tells him that he can’t kiss her. He can only put his hand in her back pocket, she says. Later, Lara Jean mentions that “the physical stuff” is very important to her.
Many of those around Lara Jean consider her “the innocent one.” But though some of her peers see this as negative trait (and mock her lack of understanding of sexual stuff), Lara Jean doesn’t view her innocence as a problem at all.
Despite this movie’s title and Lara Jean’s many crushes, it turns out she’s never actually had a boyfriend. But her romantic imagination is definitely quite active. Lara Jean reads a lot of romance novels that include “forbidden” love (such as dating your sister’s boyfriend). She also projects herself into these stories, often fantasizing about what it would be like to be romantic with someone.
Lara Jean goes on a school ski trip where, she says, people “lose their virginity” more often than any other event. This trip seems to be lacking in adult chaperones. (We see that guys and girls are left alone in hotel rooms.)
A video of Lara making out with a guy in a hot tub is leaked, and people believe it to be a sex tape. (He’s shirtless, and she’s wearing a nightgown.) Things don’t go past intense kissing, but rumors of something more salacious spread quickly. We see that the video impacts Lara far more negatively than it does the guy she kisses. Lara’s sister asks Instagram to take the video down under “child pornography laws,” and Lara believes she has “inadvertently dabbled in pornography” after the video goes viral.
Lara Jean’s father is a gynecologist, and someone asks him if he wanted to become a gynecologist to “look at vaginas” all day. A group of middle school children play spin-the-bottle, which leads to a tween guy and girl sharing a “tongue-less” kiss.” Other couples kiss quite passionately as well. A woman on a TV show brags about having had 56 boyfriends.
Lara Jean’s father talks to his daughters about menstruation and using protection during sex. He goes so far as to give one 16-year-old daughter a bag of condoms and tells her that “the pull-out method” doesn’t work. A guy goes shirtless, and girls wear slightly revealing clothing. One of Lara Jean’s crushes tells her he’s gay. Lara’s friend believes Peter has had sex in the past (something that’s insinuated in a conversation). Peter wonders if a girl has a tattoo of his face on her backside.
In an attempt to run away from her problems, Lara Jean crawls out her window and falls off the roof. She also threatens to beat up her little sister. Someone faints from embarrassment.
God’s name is misused half a dozen times. The s-word is heard four times, and other profanities include “h—,” “b–ch,” “d–k,” “d–n,” “a–” and “p-ssed.” We hear one particularly crude reference to the male anatomy.
Kitty says her food “tastes like butt.” Someone shouts “screw you.” Other insults include “sluts” and “psycho.”
Lara Jean’s dad drinks wine occasionally. Margot, Lara Jean’s older sister, tells her sisters that she goes to pubs and drinks in Scotland because “the legal drinking age is 18.” Lara Jean thinks she’s drinking beer at a party, but it’s actually kombucha tea.
Someone makes a joke about “doing crack,” but that phrase is actually used as slang for “having fun.” A guy is asked if he is “on something.” Lara Jean’s dad warns, “No drinking, no drugs” before she attends a party. A girl jokes that she should be rewarded with an alcoholic drink for winning a competition.
Lara Jean and Peter’s fake dating pact is intended to help Peter get revenege on his ex-girlfriend (and perhaps get her back), while helping Lara Jean get over a “forbidden” crush. The two occassionally feel as if they’re being mistreated throughout the film.
Lara Jean’s ex-best friend, Gen, is rude to her every chance she gets. Driven by jealousy, Gen insults Lara Jean’s clothing choices and fuels false rumors about her former friend. Those untruths lead to Lara Jean being meanly bullied, especially when someone scrawls a nasty message on Lara Jean’s locker. Gen also falsely leads her ex-boyfriend, Peter, to believe she still has an interest in dating him.
A few mildly mean “sisterly” moments include Lara Jean and her sisters fighting, keeping secrets and making fun of one another. At one point, Lara Jean screams “I hate everyone.”
Lara Jean and a friend joke about drinking urine. Peter points out racist comments made in the movie Sixteen Candles. Someone says that jocks are “slow learners.” A father walks out on his family.
He loves me. He loves me not.
Romantic stories (be they in books or in film) can create unrealistic expectations. Love doesn’t always play out the way we think it will. It’s much messier. Much more … real.
That’s the discovery Lara Jean Covey makes in Netflix’s TV-14 movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. We watch as high romantic expectations clash at times with reality, both with Lara Jean and with other characters as well.
But with each step and each decision, this winsome teen learns more about herself and her values. She learns, gradually, that real life is way more complex than the fantasies she’s harbored in her own head and heart.
Along the way, she deals with all the typical stuff you’d expect to find in a movie about high school: romance, rumors, innuendo, bullying and some foul language. But Lara Jean learns that when you step out from behind the shadows, you can become the leading lady in your own life, someone who’s strong enough to make the right decisions. Well, most of the time.
Likewise, this streaming Netflix hit mostly makes good storytelling choices in its depiction of a lovestruck adolescent and her friends and family. But it doesn’t always get it quite right, either.
One of the biggest issues here is Lara Jean’s father’s permissive attitude toward sex. In fact, it could be argued that he doesn’t take it as seriously as his teen daughter does—one of the few places where this otherwise great dad’s affection for his daughters falls disappointingly short of offering them the wise counsel they need from him.
Still, compared to Netflix’s other teen-centric drama, 13 Reasons Why, this one has far fewer problems to navigate and delivers some genuinely positive messages before the credits roll.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).