All good things don’t have to come to an end with books and movies because you can always re-watch or re-read to fall back into that perfect series or meet up with a favourite character again, but you can only read or watch something for the first time once. So, I’m looking at the arrival of the last movie, premiering on Netflix on February 12th, based on Jenny Han‘s outstanding YA series about Lara Jean Song Covey and her family with a big sigh, it’s the last ‘first time’.
Known worldwide as a blockbuster rom-com movie success on Netflix and a publishing phenomenon (her books have become even more popular during the pandemic because of their ability to provide excellent comfort reading) but at our house we were first swept away by the way that the author wrote the story between three sisters and their widowed father. Her ability to write three authentic sisters, middle sister Lara Jean, younger sister Kitty and older sister Margot, who have ‘circled the wagons’ around their widowed father was so much better than any of the other YA novels we’d read in a long time. Lara Jean’s accidental love life (it begins when love letters she had written to former crushes are sent to them without her knowledge) is a beautiful part of her story, and it continues through all three novels, but her relationship with her sisters, father, and friends just shines and makes her into a young woman who almost demanded exceptional onscreen depiction.
Jenny Han worked as an executive producer on the first movie and the strength of her role increased as the popularity of the movies increased. She shared advice with the young actors – Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, and Anna Cathcart – and worked to ensure that the small things like Lara Jean’s wardrobe, her incredible updated fairy-tale bedroom and overall esthetic would mimic what fans would expect of the character they loved in the book. Han shared constant updates on this process as well as favourite cookie recipes, playlists, glimpses of their production and some very fancy nail art through her social media accounts but also spoke of the struggle involved in having her books translated into movies.
The series was optioned for film soon after publication, but it took several years to sign a deal, as Han insisted that the actors they cast as Lara Jean and her sisters be Asian-American. Jenny Han has spoken about this often and you can read a 2018 op-ed she wrote for the New York Times (through our Digital Library) or an article about the year that we saw her first movie, Crazy Rich Asians and Searching arrive on screen at The Guardian, available to you through Press Reader. Her work on all three adaptations of her novels guaranteed that the version of the Song Covey sisters on-screen was absolutely spot on – sisters who love each other, squabble over the smallest of things, protect the overprotective father who thinks he is protecting them – and ultimately become a family that is so worth reading about.
Did I love the two first movies? Sure. They were magical. But… if it comes to picking between a book or movie version of a character, the book version always wins, even though the generous Netflix budget did provide such a beautiful representation of Jenny Han’s story. On the page we learn more about a favourite character’s life and some of the very best scenes in a book are often cut when they are adapted for a screenplay but I’m not complaining.
They managed to retain so much of the charm and humour of the original books. Lara Jean’s romance with Peter Kavinsky takes them, with a few side trips, to many memorable locations like their picturesque high school track, the local diner where her parents used to meet, a carnival at night, a beautifully lit aquarium and so much baking in the kitchen – a Jenny Han/Lara Jean favourite. The first two movies turned out like an updated John Hughes movie with far fewer horrible stereotypes, stable relationships between siblings and parents, and less of those elements that make his movies impossible to watch with our kids unless you are ready to constantly cringe as you watch them 35+ years later (great soundtracks though).
According to interviews the third movie, based on the third book in the trilogy, Always and Forever, Lara Jean, will follow many of the major plot points of the book. Lara Jean, Peter, and their friends are all enjoying their final year of high school and as a family, the Song Coveys are celebrating a wedding! Kitty has found a perfect match for their father and the sisters are welcoming a new woman into the family. This will make for some beautiful fashion and baking moments (excellent news) while we all wait to see where the future will lead Lara Jean and friends – will she and Peter end up at the same college? Will their relationship be strong enough to survive if they choose to attend different schools? Readers of the books know how Jenny Han saw their love story ending but it’s entirely possible the screen version will be different. It’s hard not to feel bittersweet about watching the last ever movie in the series so I think it feels right to bake some cookies*, just like Lara Jean.
— Penny M.
*this recipe can also be found in the cookbook 100 Cookies : the baking book for every kitchen with classic cookies, novel treats, brownies, bars and more which is a change-your-life read. Author Sarah Kieffer’s chocolate chip cookies are absolute perfection.