To All the Teenage Rom Coms I’ve Watched Before
Warning: this article contains spoilers about movies that 1) you have already watched or 2) you probably will never watch.
I’m sure everyone has seen at least one of them by now: those sappy teenage romcoms. Between 2018 and today, Netflix has released several trilogies targeted at eleven till eighteen-year-old girls and, evidently, me: who just wants to eat ice cream with friends on our umpteenth single Valentine’s day. Although I have to admit, some of these movies I have watched many times since then. At first, I loved them, as they allowed me to dream away to feelings of High School nostalgia and romance that goes beyond the talking stage on Hinge. However, as time went on and the sequels of these movies started coming out, I noticed a trend happening in these movies that left me unsatisfied with the “happy ending”.
It all started when me and my friends gathered together on Valentines day to watch the sequel to the immensely popular Netflix original film To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on Jenny Han’s novel series of the same name. The plot of the movie is quite simple: the main couple is together since the end of the last movie, another love interest then enters the scene, after which the main couple experiences relationship problems. The main girl and the new love interest almost get together (mostly because in contrast to the main guy, he does treat her right), but in the end the main couple gets back together because they are “meant to be”. And this type of plot is a big trend nowadays. The sequel of Netflix’ famous Wattpad-turned-novel-turned movie The Kissing Booth, for example, almost has an identical plotline. And the problem here is not the quality of these movies themselves, as they are very well made and clearly had a large budget to work with. What bothers me are the simple facts that 1) the new love interest is always the better option, and 2) the protagonist seems to have forgotten the toxicity that caused the relationship to fail in the first place, and waddles back to their ex.
The statement that the new love interest is always the better option is of course subjective. My friends and I always disagree about who we like better in movies, the main guy or the new love interest (you can guess which side I’m on). Personality-wise, the new love interest is always the positive polar opposite of the main guy. If we stay with the example of the To All the Boys series, new love interest John (Jordan Fisher) is a breath of fresh air in comparison to main guy Peter (Noah Centineo), who is toxic and dishonest about the fact that he cannot let go of his ex, and about the fact that the only reason he is together with the protagonist is because she was the first to arrive at the hot tub (I know, spicy stuff). John is a childhood friend of protagonist Lara-Jean. He is kind, funny, knows her well and, most importantly, isn’t toxic. He is respectful of Lara-Jean and Peter’s relationship and does not kiss her until they are broken up. After this super romantic kiss in the snow, however, Lara-Jean runs back to Peter because she realizes that he is the one for her. Sure, Lara-Jean.
As we’ve been taught in our American Studies courses, movies have the power to convey several messages to their audience. The question is, what message do these romantic movies such as To All The Boys give off? Forms of popular culture such as books and movies like To All The Boys and The Kissing Booth are often the first experiences young teenage girls have with romance. Our generation grew up with High School Musical and Mean Girls, wanting love like Troy and Gabriella had, and learning that you shouldn’t change yourself for a guy from Cady and Aaron. This new generation is entering the teenage world watching Lara-Jean and Elle (The Kissing Booth) going back to their toxic exes after meeting a guy that treats them right, just because their ex is their first love and they are “meant to be” and yada yada. And sure, people change. They learn. Peter treats Lara-Jean a lot better in the third movie. But I have yet to see a movie in which the protagonist stands up for herself, tells her ex that she deserves so much better, and waits to get back together until their ex has worked on themselves. That is, IF they get back together at all. And I’m aware that the plot I’ve just described isn’t the movie people will want to watch on Valentine’s day. I just hope that young girls see that they should end up with a John, instead of a Peter.
I want to end this spiteful rant on a positive note, because I have always loved teenage rom-coms and I probably always will. Even though it pains me that these movies hold a perfect guy in front of you and then quickly exchange him for the toxic ex, movies like To All The Boys and The Kissing Booth are great to watch with a cup of hot tea on a stormy night. I’m just waiting for Netflix to give me a movie in which the protagonist realizes her worth and picks the guy who treats her right. I guess I’ll have to write that Wattpad story myself.