In defense of Gen, the secret victim in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
Put some respect on my girl’s name
OK, before you all get crazy and start threatening to kill me on Twitter, let me say this: obviously Lara Jean Covey is an angel from on high. Obviously Peter Kavinsky is our zaddy of the moment and obviously To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is an absolute delight of a film, single-handedly resurrecting the rom-com genre after Netflix made an attempt with the dumpster fire that was The Kissing Booth. But while it might have been a triumph for cute notes and noughties hijinks and a chance to see representation in the usually totally whitewashed romantic comedy world, TATBILB is not without its problems. Specifically, this film did my girl Gen dirty.
One of the great things about TATBILB (Jesus it doesn’t even work better as an acronym does it) is, supposedly at least, that it turns previously held rom-com tropes on its head. It dismantles the often sexist and dated things we came to see as normal in the romantic comedies of the past, things like the idea that the girl has to take her glasses off and have a makeover montage to be seen as beautiful, or the temptation to totally wrap up the main couple’s future life together at the end of 90 minutes. But where it fails is with Gen, who still remains the exact same two-dimensional mean girl that movie execs lazily provided us with back in the 00s and 90s.
While Lara Jean, Peter Kavinsky and practically every other character in the film go on a journey of self-discovery and character growth, Gen just… misses this? She’s a bitch at the start, and she’s a bitch at the end, and we’re just supposed to be like “okay fine, I guess.” TATBILB even gives a slight inkling that we might get more from Gen, as a scene near the end of the film shows her discussing her old friendship with Lara Jean and how betrayed she felt when the latter kissed Peter all the way back in middle school. But as quickly as it’s raised, it’s dropped again.
Actress Natalie Walker sums up the Gen phenomenon pretty well — put simply, Gen is a character that exists because producers want to create some sort of tension between the main couple, but they can’t be bothered creating a better plot device to carry that. So they simply create “The Other Woman.” Gen is a girl you’re supposed to hate just because she’s not Lara Jean. Lara Jean is the right kind of girl, the film is saying, but Gen is a teenager who seems to have done mean things, and so she’s the wrong kind of girl and should be eternally punished. Get it? OK, well then watch this video Natalie made in a Twitter thread of awful-character-types-available-for-female-actors, it’ll explain it pretty well:
Right??? And fine, I’ll concede that if Gen was the one who did leak the jacuzzi vid of Lara Jean and Peter then that was a pretty unforgivable thing to do (and more importantly, what woman steals another woman’s scrunchie, the true crime), and maybe Netflix are holding off until the inevitable sequel to reveal some sort of hidden depths of her personality. That doesn’t stop it feeling lazy though. Give Gen a chance. Or at least some semblance of a motivation to act the way she does.
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