New Netflix films take the John Hughes' route

(From left) Lana Condor, Anna Cathcart and Noah Centineo star in To All The Boys I've Loved Before.
(From left) Lana Condor, Anna Cathcart and Noah Centineo star in To All The Boys I've Loved Before.PHOTO: AWESOMENESS FILMS-NETFLIX

To All The Boys I've Loved Before and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser are influenced by the late American director, whose 1980s teen movies did not talk down to their audience

NEW YORK • A spectre is haunting Netflix: the spectre of late director John Hughes.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before, which debuted on the service on Aug 17, and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, which goes up tomorrow, are highly influenced by Hughes.

His 1980s films, including Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), created a new kind of teenage movie, one that did not talk down to its audience.

And these new Netflix movies are not afraid to trumpet that influence in clever ways.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before, directed by Susan Johnson with a script adapted by Sofia Alvarez from a novel by Jenny Han, kicks off by introducing viewers to the three funny, feisty young females of the Covey household.

Kitty, the youngest (Anna Cathcart), uses an amusing vulgar simile mocking what her dad's cooking tastes like.

Dad is a widowed gynaecologist played by John Corbett, who apparently never inherited the culinary skills of the girls' mum, who was of Asian descent.

In any event, the oldest sister, Margot (Janel Parrish), is soon off to college in Scotland. That leaves her middle sister, Lara Jean, the heroine, played by Lana Condor (of X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016 and the coming Alita: Battle Angel), to ponder what will become of her relationship to Josh (Israel Broussard), her childhood best buddy who became Margot's boyfriend when adolescence kicked in.

This question might be enough to fuel an ordinary plot for a young adult film, but there is more.

Lara Jean's secret stash of unsent love letters to Josh and four other crushes winds up being mysteriously stamped and sent to the addressees. Confrontations ensue, one of which bears unexpected fruit.

The two leading actors, Condor and Noah Centineo (who played the hot-yet-nice jock Peter Kavinsky), are charming and their banter is diverting. It is fascinating to observe how they process and depict adolescence. The semiotics are off the charts, really.

Later, Lara Jean and Kitty watch Sixteen Candles with Peter, who says of its Asian character, Long Duk Dong: "Isn't this character kind of racist?"

Lara Jean replies: "Extremely racist", with it-is-okay-while-it-is-not-okay confidence.

It is a provocative moment. As Han herself wrote in a recent New York Times essay, she had to fight, when pitching her novel as a movie, to keep her heroine Asian-American.

The way Lara Jean seems to shrug off the racism in Sixteen Candles is not a form of excusing it; it is a way of walking forward from it. One has to admire the boldness of it.

Which is of a piece with the film as a whole. Aside from the real estate porn on display, the salient feature of this movie's young adult worldview is exceptional self-awareness. Not even John Hughes' creations were quite so sharp.

Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, directed by Ian Samuels from a script by Lindsey Beer, is more conventional in its approach.

The unpopular kid is the title character, played by Shannon Purser of Netflix's series Stranger Things (2016 to present). She is sweet, smart and much loved by her sweet, smart parents, both played by veterans of Hughes films.

The dad is a famous author portrayed by Alan Ruck, so memorable as Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, while mum is Lea Thompson of Some Kind Of Wonderful (1987, directed by Howard Deutch but written and produced by Hughes).

Sierra is expected to be some kind of literary whiz kid, but what she really wants to do is sing.

And to be liked by a boy. She has no particular boy in mind, at first.

But mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) pranks hunky nice guy Jamey (Noah Centineo again) by giving him Sierra's telephone number after he asks for Veronica's, and soon, Sierra and the unsuspecting Jamey are texting each other and getting along.

Once again, a strange alliance suggests itself: Sierra offers to help Veronica win back a creepy object of desire (by making her look "smart") if Veronica will masquerade as Sierra by sending cute selfies. It is kind of "Cyrano de Bergerac" with smartphones.

And, of course, it gets more complicated once face-to-face meet-ups are scheduled.

Between these two titles and The After Party, released on Aug 24, it is clear that more-watchable-than-average young adult movies are an integral part of Netflix's strategy for world domination. We have been warned.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2018, with the headline 'New Netflix films take the John Hughes' route'. Print Edition | Subscribe