Though it’s only been out for a week, Netflix’s original movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has already been anointed an instant rom-com classic. With the winning, charming teen characters of a John Hughes movie, an electric chemistry between the leads, and a modern sensibility, it is easily the best high-school movie of the year — maybe of the decade. The movie’s success, however should come as no surprise to any fan of Jenny Han’s book of the same name, and its subsequent sequels.
Spoilers for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before below.
The movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the best-selling young-adult novel, including the character of Lara Jean, the Asian-American high-school junior at the heart of the story — who some producers wanted to whitewash. All the major plot points are the same, and the characters are mostly as they appear in the book. The things that did change are, for the most part, to be expected: Lara Jean’s younger sister is aged up from 9 years old to 11 years old (older child actors are easier to cast), some plotlines are condensed for time, and one absolutely perfect date to an estate sale is cut for reasons that are inexplicable to this antique-loving grown-woman writer. Seriously, who doesn’t want to watch a high-school couple hang out in an elderly person’s home, haggling for trinkets?
Amazing dates aside, here were the biggest changes from book to movie.
The mystery surrounding the letters getting sent
In order to get over her intense crushes, Lara Jean Covey has a habit of writing embarrassingly sincere love letters to the objects of her affection. Though she has every intention of keeping these private, for some bizarre reason she stores each letter in fully addressed envelopes. The envelopes are kept in a blue hatbox her late mother left her.
In the book, Lara Jean’s dad goes on a cleaning spree in which he rounds up a bunch of old stuff and gives it away to a charity. So when her hatbox goes missing and Lara Jean’s crushes start approaching her with the love letters, she assumes her letters were sent out by whoever bought the box at Goodwill. The reader suspects otherwise; there are several characters who might have had motivations for sending the letters. Was it her best friend, Chris, a free-spirit rebel who lives for boy drama? Her older sister Margo, a mother-hen type who wants to give her shy little sister a push out of the nest?
In the movie, as Lara Jean naps in one of the earliest scenes, her mischievous little sister, Kitty, can be seen creeping into her big sister’s room to steal the hatbox. While Kitty had a clear motivation in the book — she was mad at Lara Jean for embarrassing her in front of their dreamy neighbor — in the movie she’s more of a sassy shit-stirrer.
Josh doesn’t kiss Lara Jean
In the movie, as is true in the book, there would be no story without Josh, the sweet and considerate boy-next-door who Lara Jean — and her whole family — absolutely adores. Of course Lara Jean wrote him one of her letters. Though it’s clear how close Lara Jean and Josh were before the letter, he’s not in the movie much. He mostly takes a back seat once Peter and Lara Jean start fake dating. But in the book he makes frequent appearances. He even confesses to having similar feelings about Lara Jean and kisses her — a development that, understandably, upsets his ex-girlfriend — and L.J.’s sister — Margo.
Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky’s first kiss
Peter Kavinsky, the high school’s hottest and most popular lacrosse-playing dreamboat, is the guy Lara Jean has the most history with besides Josh. Back in middle school, Lara Jean was friends with Peter and Genevieve, the girl Peter would go on to date for several years. He was also Lara Jean’s first kiss — a point of contention that drove a wedge between her and Genevieve. The smooch sparked the flame of Lara Jean’s crush on him.
In the movie, this kiss was the result of a basement party game. Like many middle schoolers before them, the fate of their lips was sealed by a spinning 7 Up bottle. It makes Genevieve’s jealousy of this quick peck extra ridiculous — if she didn’t want to see Peter Kavinsky’s luscious, perfect lips kissing other girls, then, as the group’s queen bee, she should have dictated that the co-ed crew played a different risqué game like Truth or Dare. Duh.
In the book though, the story behind this kiss is our first indication that Lara Jean’s crush on Peter might have been mutual, even before they became fake girlfriend and boyfriend. The two of them were the last kids waiting to be picked up at a friend’s house. They were sitting close to each other when Peter told Lara Jean that she smelled nice. That’s when, out of the blue, he landed one right on her lips.
The “relationship” contract
The fake relationship contract Lara Jean and Peter draft together is mostly the same, except in the book it is Peter who suggests that, in lieu of kissing and other PDA, he’s allowed to put a hand in Lara Jean’s back pocket (that perv). He also writes a rule that she won’t make him watch rom-coms, and she writes a rule that he won’t take her to see action movies. Instead, in the movie, the contract dictates that Peter will watch certified rom-com Sixteen Candles and Lara Jean will watch Fight Club.
Lara Jean’s dad is cool
Maybe not “cool” per se, but definitely the kind of movie dad teens wish they had. In the book, Lara Jean’s dad is more of a busy, nice guy. He usually only appears long enough to make sure everyone is fed. He is on the verge of tears when he tries to give Lara Jean a safe-sex talk, and tells her he thinks she should wait. Not in the movie though! John Corbett as Dr. Covey is all about butting into his daughter’s conversations with a glass of white wine in hand to wax poetically about the power of teen love. He’s rocking the ‘80s tunes on the diner’s jukebox. He even hands Lara Jean a fistful of condoms before she goes away on a school-supervised overnight trip.
The ending borrows from the start of the second book
In both the book and the movie, a rumor starts floating around that Lara Jean and Peter had sex while on the overnight school ski trip. Another plotline, involving a leaked “sextape” (really just the two lovebirds making out in a hot tub) gets shoehorned into the movie version, though this drama doesn’t happen in the book series until early in the sequel P.S. I Still Love You. This choice makes sense — it clearly heightens the stakes for Lara Jean, whose reputation could be damaged by the video beyond what the mean girls are saying about her. Most college admission offices aren’t thrilled by the possibility of underage porn.
The first book also ends on a cliffhanger, with Lara Jean making a resolution to tell Peter how she really feels. But a character telling herself she should be brave is a bit anticlimactic for a rom-com. To give the movie that big, heart-swelling, cue-the-music conclusion, the movie skipped ahead to the beginning of P.S. I Still Love You, with Lara Jean giving Peter a note about her real feelings. Though the scene goes down slightly differently in the book (it takes place at his house on New Year’s Day, not the lacrosse field), it’s definitely similar.
And the movie still left room for a sequel with a cliffhanger of its own: John Ambrose, Lara Jean’s crush from Model U.N., makes his first appearance just before the credits, and he definitely has a part to play in P.S. I Still Love You. Let’s just see how that love triangle holds up next to internet fave Peter Kavinsky.