To All the Movie Adaptations I’ve Loved Before

Does Lara Jean get her scrunchie back in the book?

Caution: Spoilers Ahead

lara gif

Everyone is talking about recent Netflix Original film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which has received a striking rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. But did you know your new favorite teen romance film was based on a book with the exact same title, written by Jenny Han? (Get it on Amazon for only $8.79!)

Literature lovers and film critics, rejoice! Are you wondering if To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is worth reading, or its movie worth watching? Welcome to one person’s interpretation of how the movie compares to the book. Ever since the live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender *shudders* and the disaster that was the Percy Jackson films, it is fair to be skeptical of the quality of a film adaptation– or the book it’s based on. However, let me preface this post with a hint: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before does not fall in with the aforementioned flops.

Disclaimer: I watched the movie first.

“Peter Kavinsky_s such a cliché. He_s like a cardboard cutout of a ‘cool guy_ in a movie about high school.”

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is all the rage right now. While I cannot tell you whether it is because of Noah Centineo’s swoon-worthy boyfriend material acting in the role of Peter Kavinsky– see page 31 of the book in which love interest/childhood friend Josh Sanderson pegs Noah Centineo’s portrayal of Peter Kavinsky perfectly and in a very meta way: “Peter Kavinsky’s such a cliché. He’s like a cardboard cutout of a ‘cool guy’ in a movie about high school.” — because it is a sweet noah gifhigh school love story with pure intentions, or because it showcases an Asian-American lead, I can tell you how closely the movie followed the book and if the book is worth reading, in my humble opinion.

But before we get into the specifics, let me preface the concept of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Lara Jean Song Covey, played by Lana Condor, writes and properly addresses a letter every time she falls in love. And, of course, because the book is longer than five pages, Lara’s secret love letters get sent out to the addressees. This causes a sequence of events that dredge up Lara’s past relationships, her feelings with people in her life (and some that have left it), and results in the creation of the iconic fake relationship between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky– Gen Z’s equivalent of the monument that is Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal (2009).back pocket

“Peter Kavinsky_s such a cliché. He_s like a cardboard cutout of a ‘cool guy_ in a movie about high school.”(1)

The relative innocence of high school is conveyed through Lara’s dreamy disposition and hopefulness in the relationships she holds with others. As Lara says herself, “If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms.” This idealistic, coming-of-age story is a light-hearted narrative to fall in love, cringe, get angry, and explore the importance of family vicariously through the ever-endearing Lara Jean Song Covey.

The first thing I noticed while reading the book was that it is blatantly a young-adult novel. While the diction and syntax is consistent with that of a high schooler, it can make the book slightly less pleasing for those of us used to more complex literature. However, this is compensated by the content. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is an easy read with a pleasant flow and captivating content. If you’re the type of person that likes books that feel like a sunny day and lemonade with chocolate chip cookies and warm, fuzzy feelings: this is the book for you. Even if you’re not in high school, the plot of the book focuses on more than just a love triangle and high school mean girls, which is not as true for the movie.

In the movie adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the main focus is Lara Jean’s internal and external conflict between past loves and fake love. Because of the lack of length constraint, the book is able to detail how much Lara Jean relies on her older sister, Margot, and how she strives to fill the hole left by her late mother and Margot after she leaves for college in Scotland. The elaborate inner monologue of Lara Jean in the book details her ulterior motives and internal struggle of taking on the newfound responsibility of being the oldest woman in the house. While Lara Jean’s relationship and position as a role model with her younger sister and her yearning to remember her mother is prominent throughout the film, the main focus is the development of her relationship with Peter Kavinsky and her ultimate choice between him and Josh Sanderson. However, love sells and the blooming of their connection along with the personal growth Lara Jean experiences is still prominently portrayed in the movie.

To answer your burning question, Lara Jean’s scrunchie doesn’t even exist in the book! Peter suggests that Lara Jean should literally let her hair down by taking her ponytail holder out himself, and the book simply refers to it as a hair tie when it describes how Peter tosses it onto the ground after, never to be mentioned again. This is in contrast to the iconic symbol that the scrunchie is in the movie, in which Lara Jean trusts Peter to keep her beloved favorite scrunchie as a compromise for taking her hair down. Peter later allows Genevieve to take the scrunchie right off of his wrist as a power play and rubs it in Lara Jean’s face later. Any scrunchie lover felt what Lara Jean was going through; your favorite scrunchie is a sacred object and I cannot imagine the anger I would feel if my fake boyfriend’s ex had the audacity to boast her theft of my favorite scrunchie.

Scrunchie rant aside (if you feel similarly passionate, check out this article), the movie follows the overall concept and even the most important specific plot details very well. However, the biggest difference between the book and the movie is that in the book, Peter doesn’t even want to get back with Genevieve. He agrees to pretend to date Lara Jean simply to sever all of Gen’s hopes to rekindle her relationship with Peter. This is a contrast to the movie in which Peter only agrees to moonlight as Lara Jean’s boyfriend because he is trying to make Gen jealous and take him back. This extra conflict does add value and complexity to the overall quality of the film, so it is an understandable adjustment.

Jenny Han’s persistence and resolution to have the book’s most important aspects properly represented in the movie resulted in an accurate and entertaining film adaptation. Lana Condor does an amazing job as Lara Jean Song Covey in maintaining the relevance and importance of her identity as an Asian-American. In her essay for the New York Times, Han revealed her level of determination to have Lara Jean properly represented: “Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.” This instance exemplifies how Han’s investment in the movie created a cohesive film that aligns with the greatest values at the book’s core.

The summer haze and winter wonderland present in the cinematography of the film complete the experience and match the effervescent mood that emanates from the book. Regardless of your walk of life, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a refreshing story; the intricacies in the book and the refreshing youthfulness inspired by the movie make both worthwhile endeavors. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the movie. The film adaptation provided accessibility to a wider range of individuals than the book, such is life in any book/movie situation, but the book is an enriching experience with deeper insight and elaboration into the thought process and in-depth feelings Lara Jean experiences during her journey of personal growth.



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