Netflix has an ever-increasing amount of content aimed at many different audiences, but one genre the streaming giant seems to be particularly fond of is romance. When looking online for Romance movies to watch, Netflix seems to be the go-to destination, but there’s a noticeable disparity between what critics and audiences thought of these films. The obvious question is; why? What is it about these movies, and the approach of their viewers, that causes a difference in reception?
The following article will look at five films that have been carefully curated according to audience size (800+ Rotten Tomatoes audience reviews) and a gap of 10% or more between critic and audience approval (RT’s system gives a “Fresh” rating to anything earning the equivalent of a 7/10 from at least 60% of reviewers), to answer the above questions through analysis of the scores, critic reviews and audience reviews accessible via rottentomatoes.com. Any film about a specific time of year (read: Christmas) has been eliminated from contention because they are holiday movies first, Romance films second.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Critic Score: 97%
Audience Score: 87%
Lara Jean Covey is a shy romantic who prefers to keep drama out of her life, but she learns to come out of her shell when her sister distributes private love letters to the boys she’s secretly admired. It’s packed with captivating performances, eye-catching set design, and meaningful writing.
What the Critics Say (67 Reviews):
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before may be a teen romance, but Lara Jean’s anxieties about love… are shared by plenty of adults… [it] thrills in part because most viewers are all too familiar with what it feels like to baldly deny feelings for another person even as they become patently obvious to everyone else.” – Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic
“Netflix has already unspooled a handful of rom-coms this year… but their newest batch offers some of their most promising teen-centric originals yet. “To All the Boys” cracks what should be an obvious code: find a sweet protagonist, and even the most outlandish of storylines can work. Mostly, though, “To All the Boys” keeps a tight grip on the formula of every rom-com and adapts it for the younger set.” –Kate Erbland, IndieWire
“Han’s high-concept teen romance is sickly sweet and never quite believable, but in spite of its methodical plotting, it always feels like it’s the finely wrought characters and their particular quirks that drive the action. If the novel is a child’s music box, the movie is a horror-movie version of one, full of missing pieces and creaky gearwork. Stilted and scattered and strangely cold in its cinematography, it’s a handsomely shot whole lotta nothin’.” – Inkoo Kang, Slate
Critics rated To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before film higher than audiences did, and while they acknowledged that the film is filled with tropes of the genre, the better qualities of the movie seem to overcome such a pitfall. Inkoo Kang’s take on the presentation isn’t shared across the board; a quick ctrl+f in the other Rotten reviews from Top Critics failed to even mention the words “cinematography”, “shots”, or “visuals”. There’s a mild Wes Anderson quality to center-framed shots and the bright color scheme, but it’s certainly nothing extraordinary.
What the Audience Says (4,408 Reviews):
“It’s another pastel-filtered rom-com with witty and well-groomed teens, but it hits the emotional beats really well and Lana Condor is such an endearing freaking star that director Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before becomes one of those movies you can’t wait to re-visit again and again when in need of something that’s both comfortable and dramatic without having any real consequence.” – Philip P, 4 Star Review
“Though the initial premise is intriguing, the film plays out like a rose-colored mashup of teen rom-com cliches. It would have to be very late and I would have to be very desperate in order to make myself sit through this movie again.” – Ren B, 1 Star Review
“Another thing that I like from this movie is the color palette, from the bright yellows and deep blues [that] seemed to give character to the film; some transitions were very well made and overall, all these characteristics combined made a good, enjoyable film.” – Paola F, 3.5 Star Review
Your opinion on To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before as a viewer will seemingly come down to your personal ability to look past “tropes” and “predictability” (because if there’s one thing Romances are known for, it’s their wild twists and turns). Almost every one-star review could be summed up by throwing out the words “standard”, “cliche”, or “predictable”. It’s difficult to imagine the other films being terribly different on that front…
Honestly, if you don’t like Romance movies because you think they’re all alike, why are you even here?
What in your life has brought you to this point that you’re reading a review of reviews of movies mostly aimed at teenagers?
Knowing so-and-so end up together is the entire point – it’s about the journey, not the destination. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is time well spent, and you can quote that in some kind of meta-analysis of meta-analyses of film analysis.
Both critics and audiences liked the film overall, and the primary difference seems to lie in one’s ability to overlook the surface level similarities between this film and others in the genre. Unsurprisingly, critics are more likely to seriously engage with the material presented by appreciating the situations and themes, while the audience members are sold mostly on the narrative between, and characterisations of, the two people at the center of the story.
The Kissing Booth (2018)
Critic Score: 17%
Audience Score: 60%
This Rom-Com is Twilight without the fantasy facade. Two lifelong best friends are driven apart by secret romance in this weird movie about an unapologetic walking red flag getting the girl in the end.
What the Critics Say (12 Reviews):
“The central conflict is a classic one of the genre: Elle falls in love with the wrong dude. Elle wrestles with her growing feelings for Noah as he alluringly teases her, engaging in the kind of push-pull will-they-won’t-they dynamic that’s always been a hallmark of the genre. And yet, even in its earliest moments, “The Kissing Booth” is preoccupied with sexist rhetoric and a willingness to apologize for Noah’s alarming behavior.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire
“The Kissing Booth had great potential to be a body-positive, coming-of-age film, where a young woman learns about her autonomy and to not allow the men in her life to police her body. Instead, the film plays far more into sexist undertones and allows Lee and Noah to commodify Elle’s body, turning her into a thing to fight for ownership over rather than a person who’s allowed to make her own decisions.” – Tess Cagle, The Daily Dot
“It offers a good chance to talk to teens about Noah’s bad-boy appeal and how violent, controlling behavior is a serious red flag in real life, as well as the wisdom of basing a relationship on a promise that someone will change. But teen romance fans who can handle the edgy content and who can see past the stereotypes will enjoy watching events unfold to the refreshingly not-melodramatic but satisfying end.” – Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
It’s difficult to watch this movie without coming away with a lot of negatives about how the protagonist is treated by the men in the film. As a piece of filmmaking, there isn’t much wrong with it. The biggest visual problem is how much taller Noah is than Elle, which is hilariously solved at one point by them kissing on their knees. There isn’t much fun if you’re conscious of the archaic gender dynamics on any level.
What the Audience Says (2,469 Reviews):
“I’m a fan of cheesy tee movies, but this one is really upsetting. Is the cliche of falling for your BFF’s big brother, but in this case this big brother is a really aggressive and abusive person. Is wrong that they normalize this behavior and tried to make it look like romantic.” – Maria H, 1 Star Review
“The story is cute enough to watch and heart-warming, but wish there is more explanation about other characters who aren’t the main actress. The film is nicely shot.” – Champ S, 3.5 Star Review
“Yes, it is hokey. Yes, it has flaws. Yes, I enjoyed it in spite of these things. I’m 56 years old, but as I was watching this movie I was 16 and in the midst of my first crush again. Okay, maybe the memories the movie brought back colored my rating… a little. So sue me. I enjoyed this flawed, hokey movie.” – Anonymous, 5 Star Review
These reviews really run the gamut of possible feelings on this film. Mid-range reviews thought of it as a cheesy but enjoyable flick, higher ratings loved it (I tried to leave out obvious teens reviewing a movie they liked, but that’s what a lot of those were), and the lowest ratings couldn’t stand the issues that are plainly at the core of this film without any sort of awareness or apology.
A film based on a book written by a teenager not having broad appeal for adults is hardly a surprise. The primary difference between how critics and audiences viewed this movie was that a larger number of audience members weren’t looking at the larger implications of the actions, and instead wanted to find relatable and cheesy elements one expects from a Romance film.
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