Do girls come of age only to fall in love with boys?

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before novel by Jenny Han

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I was left with two mixed feelings after watching Susan Johnson’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018):

  • a guttural, jubilant feeling of coolness that finally one of my secretly favorite genres is led by a non-White woman who does not conform to the Western standards of idealistic beauty;
  • and disappointed that it was yet another love story where the girl gets the guy at the end.

No matter how poorly orchestrated that transformation of the rogue-guy-gone-right is, chick-flicks offer the lidocaine-like effect of making the world a better place for women. Normal girls who do not look as if they emerged out of an Instagram filter are on par with hot girls whom guys drool after. Asshole guys who toy with girls’ emotions on occasion are actually poor, tormented softies who take the fake bravado of being overtly macho as a shield to hide intensely softer feelings and lucrative stories from their past.

As a teenage girl, films like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” would have been my scapegoat, my yacht into a realm that I strived to be less anonymous within. As a grown-up woman in her thirties, I am more than ever tired of tropes. Films like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” would have meant something to my fifteen-year-old self that now comprise the exact opposite:

The hope that bad guys are actually good.

That guys like Peter act like jackasses all the time because they’re actually suffering from “deep personal issues” and need a “good, sweet” girl to uncover this truth and calm their spurs of demonic rage translated into bullying and cocky-ish attitudes.

We are not shown the side of Peter that allows her friend Josh to call him an asshole. Au contraire, Peter appears like the “jock with a heart of gold’ trope that does not exist in real life, and all his problems appear to have emerged from Daddy or Mommy issues which do not need a psychiatrist as much as it needed the loving arms of an innocent girl unlike the sluts from his past who did not understand his needs or tend to his fresh wounds.

Message to my future daughter

Is “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” the kind of movie that I want my daughter—hypothetically speaking, since I have not planned yet to have kids—to grow up with?

Absolutely not.

I mean, I have yet to blame John Hughes and Richard Curtis for romanticizing psychopaths and slipping the notion that toxic people can be undone into nontoxic, loving creatures. I have to shed off the scars I’ve built up from watching films where the innocent, nerdy outcast girl gets the asshole who transforms from asshole to Prince Charming in a series of scenes and wide-camera angles. However, there is only one thing that I hope “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” will pave the road for in other films. That would be representation.

I mean, I have yet to blame John Hughes and Richard Curtis for romanticizing psychopaths and slipping the notion that toxic people can be undone into nontoxic, loving creatures. I have to shed off the scars I’ve built up from watching films where the innocent, nerdy outcast girl gets the asshole who transforms from asshole to Prince Charming in a series of scenes and wide-camera angles. However, there is only one thing that I hope “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” will pave the road for in other films. That would be representation.

I watched a “The Daily Show” interview with author Jenny Han, where she talked about how people couldn’t understand why the lead character had to be cast as Asian because the plot did not mention anything “Asian.” Han said, “And I was like, but her spirit is Asian, so it’s important. It’s not her entire identity, but it’s a part of her identity.” I could relate!

I watched a “The Daily Show” interview with author Jenny Han, where she talked about how people couldn’t understand why the lead character had to be cast as Asian because the plot did not mention anything “Asian.” Han said, “And I was like, but her spirit is Asian, so it’s important. It’s not her entire identity, but it’s a part of her identity.” I could relate!

The idea of seeing yourself on the big screen. Finding that you could have a voice, and were on equal side with the more privileged White, Western women who looked nothing like you yet shared similar problems of alienation, confusion, and lack of self-control with a hint of self-destructive, teenage angst. Seeing an Asian or African American or Arab girl go through this on the big screen would boost the confidence of millions of girls who lie in their beds at night thinking about their places in the world and how their small dreams could have an impact in the bigger scheme of things.

Would I want my future daughter to watch this movie? Absolutely. I hope by the time she is well into watching films, the platform is more habitable for stories of women who come of age to discover things about themselves—kind of like “Stand by Me” (1986), “The Cure” (1995), “It” (2017), and other movies that consisted of a White majority male cast facing their demons or embarking on journeys that led them into manhood after a troubled teenage-hood. Would I want my daughter to watch a film where women come of age and discover things other than love? Absolutely.

Would I want my daughter to watch a film where women come of age and discover things other than love? Absolutely.

What I hope to see on the big screens are tales like “Ghost World” (2001), where the girls are unlikeable and awkward and scary.

A movie like “Say Anything…” (1989), but with with the gender flipped: the girl goes to great lengths to get the guy and hacks into his iPad to share the song through which they had sex.

I want more of Jenny Han, but with a twist. I want Asian girls, African American girls, Native American girls and Arab girls to fall in love, take over genres previously reserved for the Meg Ryan type, discover their sexuality, and mature into the women they are not expected to be.

What I hope to see on the big screens are tales like “Ghost World” (2001), where the girls are unlikeable and awkward and scary.

A movie like “Say Anything…” (1989), but with with the gender flipped: the girl goes to great lengths to get the guy and hacks into his iPad to share the song through which they had sex.

I want more of Jenny Han, but with a twist. I want Asian girls, African American girls, Native American girls and Arab girls to fall in love, take over genres previously reserved for the Meg Ryan type, discover their sexuality, and mature into the women they are not expected to be.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a teenage love story just like anything you’ve seen before. But with an Asian girl leading the narrative, you might think an overly consummated genre still has a lot to say. Let’s wait and see!

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