Netflix has recently thrown strategic curveballs during its quest for streaming platform dominance. In the process, the service is attempting to resurrect the dying romantic comedy genre, and on the heels of the insanely popular (yet objectively bad) Kissing Booth, Neflix has made a move toward quality with Set It Up and the upcoming To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before — a charming entry (based upon the YA novel by Jenny Han) that’s ripe for the binging.
Lana Condor (X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Jubilee) stars as a teenager, Lara Jean Covey (affectionately known as “Covey” by some of her friends), whose five secret letters to crushes are unleashed into the world. All romantic hell breaks loose, and as the trailer reveals, Covey begins a fake relationship with one of the young men, and you can guess how that turns out. As predictable as that sounds, the film arrives at its destination in a way that will delight young adults and older viewers who still carry a torch for the John Hughes era.
Uproxx recently spoke with Lana Condor about how the film not only presents a positive role model for younger generations, but how it pays tribute to films including Sixteen Candles without letting a certain racist character slide. Here’s the resulting conversation.
Your character, Lara Jean Covey, is a gem. She’s whip-smart, strong, funny, and loyal. What specifically drew you to play her?
Well, all of the things you just said! What did it for me was that she just has such a good heart and is a good person, but what initially drew me is that I’ve never played a lead role, and I never thought I’d play a lead in a rom-com, so just the opportunity itself was kind of a no-brainer. As soon as I got the audition, I went crazy, and I was like, “No, I can’t let this opportunity pass. I have to play this.” And then when I did more research, and I read the books, it was like the cherry on top, where I got to be in this position that I never thought I was going to, and also play this wonderful character. So everything worked out really well.
I admired Covey’s strong sense of self. She doesn’t need anyone to feel whole, even after the trauma of losing her mom at a very young age. What message do you want her to send to young women?
I want young women to not have to feel that they have to be something that they’re not. Not feel like they have to be cool or have to change themselves because they feel like if they presented who they were, they’d really be ostracized from their community. I think to be yourself and own who you are — people who respond well to that are the people that you want in your life anyway.
She also endures what could be considered a teenage girl’s worst nightmare with those letters.
How do you think she handled that?
She handled it pretty well. I thought her first instinct to freak out was very realistic. I don’t know if I would have done a fake relationship, but that is a way of her going into denial, which I can’t fault her for because if that happened to me, I would deny it, I would run away. It’s a horrible thing. If I loved five guys, I would hate if they found that out. I think her reaction was spot-on.
She and Peter (Noah Centineo) agree to begin a fake relationship, but of course, it begins to feel real. Did that feel organic to you?
Yes, yes. I mean, Noah and I had great chemistry from day one. But when you shoot a movie, you get to know people better throughout your time on set. And so Noah, it felt very organic because we always had great chemistry, but we learned a lot about each other throughout the whole process, so we kind of did start in a fake relationship. And then it grew to be super-organic, our relationship as human beings. To me, it felt organic, but I hope it showed.
This film features plenty of commentary about one of my favorite 1980s movies, Sixteen Candles. Did you watch the film beforehand?
No, I didn’t! I’m so embarrassed to say that, even after so many people talking about Sixteen Candles to me, I still haven’t seen it. But I will watch it, and I did watch Fight Club, which is also in the movie, so that answers that.
That surprises me because I really thought that you “got it.” How great did it feel, though, for Covey to call out the Long Duck Dong character for what it was … “extremely racist”?
I hadn’t seen that clip before the screening because obviously when you’re acting, you’re just acting to a dead TV, but when I saw [that scene in the movie] that, I was easily taken aback and very proud of Lara Jean as a viewer because I don’t know how people got away with that [portrayal of Asian people]. That is … ugh … it’s just not realistic, it’s not representative of a large group of people. So it’s clearly insulting, and I’m very proud that she shut that down really quick.
The film highlights the bond between sisters. Even though the rising chaos that threatens them near the end, the girls stick together.
I think that’s really important. I think it’s important to show a really good, functioning family dynamic. Especially because this is not only a romcom but a teen romcom, so it’s important to show that your sisters are your everything, and your family is your everything. And you don’t have to break bonds over a guy. I think the girls responded very healthily to it, and at the end of the day, your sisters are gonna be with you for life, but the guy that you love at sixteen might not be there later on.
So I loved the way they responded. I love Janel (Parrish) and Anna (Cathcart), who played Margo and Kitty. We all got very close, we call each other sisters. I love the way it was represented in the film, and my dad said that the thing he’s most excited about in the film is to see the sisters. And in the book, it’s also written very well.
Uproxx recently debated whether the romcom genre could find new life. Do you feel this movie will help Netflix get there?
I hope so, if anything, it’s a great film for younger kids because when I was a kid, I had great teen romcoms, but I don’t know if my little cousins — who are about 11 — I don’t know whether they have that same experience that I did. So I hope that it can resurrect the teen romcom and gives young kids and teens something wholesome to watch, instead of something graphic and inappropriate. Recently, I’ve been terrified for my younger cousins because right now, I feel that we’re in a world where people aren’t so sensitive to children’s innocence. So I hope that it adds to bringing back wholesome programming for young people.
‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ hits Netflix on August 17. Check out the film’s trailer below.