Isabella's Reviews

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Isabella's Reviews

"I went to one kickboxing class and now I am certain that I could win in a fight against Rocky Balboa"

To all the boys i've loved before

In real life, high school can be pretty ugly. Everyone is dealing with the pressures of impending adulthood while also trying to craft some sort of personality and plan for the future that constantly looms overhead. Meanwhile, social situations only grow more perplexing as childhood begins to fade into the background. While living through all of this is anything but easy, watching high school drama unfold on screen is at once nostalgic, hilarious, and heartwarming. Maybe this is the reason why I spent an entire summer shortly after my own graduation seeking out every high school movie from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s that I could possibly find. I had a blast and now my mom and I can bond about movies that she loved as a teenager, but I reached the end of the list. At some point, this genre seemed to lose some serious momentum.

Since I’ve been quietly mourning this cinematic void for awhile now, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me hope that we haven’t grown too cynical to enjoy a fun, uplifting tale about the trials and tribulations of adolescence and falling in love. I’m thrilled to see such a positive reception from a wide range of audiences, proving that Lara Jean’s plight is one that resonates with most. No matter who you are, you have probably had a crush on someone and done something humiliating in front of them. Lara Jean’s story is a nightmare that evolves into a daydream, and watching it unfold on screen is amusing from start to finish.

Like John Hughes movies and other classics in the teen rom-com catalogue, this movie is populated with rich characters whose storylines enhance the main plot of the protagonists’ romance. Beyond simply serving as an incredibly fun film, the story illustrates the value of open communication and touches on themes of loss, grief, and identity. In a refreshing improvement from earlier films of this genre, the story seamlessly represents a group of people of varying ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations. Hopefully, the early success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before will open the door for more charming movies that grossly romanticize the average person’s high school experience. Until then, I’ll be watching this one over and over again


Crazy rich asians

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I’m going to get in trouble with book clubs around the globe for saying this, but when it comes to Crazy Rich Asians, I liked the movie better than the book. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book, because I adored it. The movie is just that good.

If you’ve read Kevin Kwan’s novel, you’ll know that its visual nature lends itself marvelously to the screen. It’s filled with vivid descriptions of Chanel gowns, a magnificently dynamic cast of characters, and dreamy island getaways. While at times I found myself flipping back in the book to recall which one of Nick’s cousins had which personality, the movie establishes each character quickly and seamlessly. Everything comes to life in a rich, beautiful way. This is largely because of the talent and chemistry provided by its star-studded cast. Constance Wu portrays Rachel as way more of a badass than I imagined she was in the book. Henry Golding captures Nick’s Prince Charming essence so well that I am positive every audience member will dream of running away with him to Singapore or like... anywhere. Awkwafina steals the show as the sort of best friend/hype woman that we all aspire to have.

Of course, this movie is a massive representation win considering Hollywood’s problematic history of erasing Asian people from their own stories. While I’ve heard criticism about the film’s failure to represent other prominent ethnic groups of Singapore, I hope this doesn’t detract from the magnitude of getting this movie made in a market where a large Asian ensemble cast has not led a blockbuster film in decades. Though the criticism is justifiable, the success of this movie and all the doors it promises to open is something to celebrate.

If you like romance, family drama, comedy, and fantasizing about a life of luxury, this is the movie for you. And if you can’t stop thinking about it like me, pick up Kevin Kwan’s novel and give it a read (or a re-read. It’s a full trilogy y’all. We can live in this world for SO LONG). Not only will you have a blast, you’ll be supporting an incredibly deserving group of artists as they make Hollywood history.


mamma mia! here we go again

We need to talk about ABBA. Those impossibly talented Swedish fashionistas created music that has transcended national, cultural, and generational boundaries. I didn’t even exist when ABBA came into being 46 years ago, but alas I have lost my mind every time I have ever heard “Dancing Queen.” I was fortunate enough to grow up with a mother who understood the importance of making ABBA a part of my life early on. I have zero authority to give parenting advice in this review of the film Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, but I’m doing it anyways. Play ABBA Gold for your child as often as possible. It will bring them lifelong joy.

Knowing how I feel about ABBA, you can see that I came into this movie with a lot of feelings. The original Mamma Mia is a masterpiece, and if you disagree let’s go out to lunch and talk about it. For me, the sequel started out on much shakier ground. The opening number of Sophie singing “Thank You for the Music” feels weak and I was deeply aware of how much it resembles real life people (i.e. me) quietly singing ABBA to themselves at home alone. Perhaps this stems from my own convoluted relationship with musicals, but there were moments at the start of this film where I felt acutely aware of how ridiculous it was that all of these people were singing ABBA to each other in situations where it felt uncalled for. While it threw me off a bit, I wouldn’t say it made me enjoy the movie less. Like the original, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, so you can laugh while you think about having a serious conversation with one of your three dads and breaking into song without addressing it at all.

For me, the movie got better as it went along. I was swept up in the beautiful scenery, fashion statements, and romances. By the time we got to this rendition of “Dancing Queen,” I was ready to jump onto the nearest ship and dance my heart out with a bunch of random Greek bystanders. A few songs weren’t represented as well as they could have been (“Fernando,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You”), but that didn’t stop me from having a great time. There are plenty of fair critiques of this movie. It makes no effort to properly represent anyone who isn’t white. The story structure didn’t make tons of sense to me. Despite all of this, I loved watching this movie. When the credits rolled, I had a hard time letting go of this dreamy world.

This movie provides a cathartic sense of escapism into a Mediterranean wonderland full of disco and angelic characters, which we could all use right now. However, the film is not merely a mindless viewing experience. The themes of loss, grief, and the passage of time appear quite touchingly throughout the film, adding a tinge of both sadness and warmth that isn’t as present in the first Mamma Mia film. If you’re looking for an uplifting summer movie, you need to go indulge in this idealistic story. You may cringe a time or two, but when you hear the opening strings to “One of Us” while staring at the sparkling blue ocean, you’ll forget all about the secondhand embarrassment you felt when young Harry did… everything that he did.


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Eighth Grade

About three quarters of the way through my first viewing of Eighth Grade, I found myself starkly aware of how many tears were on my face. Though I wasn’t aware of it, I think I went into the theater expecting more of a goofy, thoughtless comedy. Up until this film, my favorite Bo Burnham piece was that Vine of him spinning around in a bathtub wearing goggles. I know he’s a nuanced and talented performer, but I did not expect this movie to tug at the heartstrings as profoundly as it did.

Eighth Grade is part of what I hope will be a long-lasting effort to portray young girls as multi-dimensional human beings. It’s taken an embarrassingly long time, but this movie is another step in the right direction away from the caricature of squeaky, brainless teenage girls that populated sitcoms of the 90s and early 2000s. Elsie Fisher, who was actually representative of the age of her character, Kayla, brought to life all of the insecurities of adolescence so viscerally that you will find yourself reliving all of those painful memories you repressed from middle school. From being stuck hanging out with someone’s weird cousin at a birthday party to constantly being told that you’re quiet when in reality no one is listening, many aspects of this movie are universally relatable. The film goes deeper to look at some of the unique ways that kids in the 2010s have had to navigate these tumultuous years with the added burden (and occasional gift) of the Internet.

Kayla’s obsession with social media magnifies her loneliness, as she endlessly scrolls through what appears to be all of her peers thriving and enjoying life while she sits in her room alone. She masks her anxious demeanor when she records lifestyle vlogs in her bedroom, giving others advice on how to cope with the very social situations that she is terrified of. This juxtaposition of characters within Kayla surely resonates with anyone who remembers the struggle of attempting to craft a personality at the cusp of their teenage years. The cheerful, confident version of Kayla stays latent within herself as she walks through the school hallways with her head down, unable to channel her own advice.

For me, the most touching storyline was Kayla’s convoluted relationship with her single father (Josh Hamilton). Though she often refuses to extend any sort of courtesy in his direction, he is impossibly patient and continues to read her like a book despite her best efforts to shut herself off to him. In a heartfelt fireside scene towards the end (this is where I noticed the aforementioned tears on my face), he assuages Kayla’s fear of disappointing him by explaining the unconditionality of a parent’s love for their child. This scene made the movie for me (but you’re welcome for the heads up because it’s a LOT to process emotionally).

Overall, I’m impressed with how real this movie feels in a cinematic landscape where teenagers are often portrayed by beautiful actors well into their 20s who can’t even remember the overwhelming horror of being humiliated in front of the popular kids. Go watch this movie, and then go watch some old Bo Burnham Vines to forget how much you cried.