Over the last few months, Netflix has released a number of coming-of-age romcoms and I have, as a duty to you, been keeping up. I’ve watched The Kissing Booth, Alex Strangelove, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before (potentially the worst and laziest name for a film, ever) and Sierra Burgess is a Loser. Upon watching, it is clear that, as with everything Netflix do, there is a calculated formula at play.
Netflix is up there with Google and Facebook in terms of how much it knows about its audience (please note I have no stats to actually back this up, but I’d say it’s likely). The wonderful thing is that all this information is used to create content that they know people will enjoy. These films, are a direct result of all this information. One glaring example of this is the fact that Janel Parrish plays a secondary character in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. To those who would not watch one of these films anyway, this is an empty detail. But, to the audience most likely to watch these films (I’m assuming teens/ young females), this is very relevant. Janel is best known for her role as Mona in Pretty Little Liars, one of the most popular (verging on cult classic) teen shows in recent years, that just happens to have been on Netflix for the last couple of years. Her being in the film not only talks to teens of today, but teens of years past, and is, quite frankly, genius.
Being shown exactly what you, statistically, want, is a strange experience. There is no illusion of a passion project or hint of imperfection. I consider it the equivalent of a mass produced cake and a cake made by an actual baker. Sure they might both be the same thing, and you’ll eat either one, but one just has something a little extra. That being said, if ever there is a genre where such a sense of lacking won’t actually have a negative effect, it’s probably this one. As a rule, coming-of-age films tend not to be drastically boundary-breaking and they are not watched on the edge of one’s seat. They are, instead, pure escapism. And for that, a formula works perfectly well.
The formula is as follows: we are introduced to our main character who is not a picture-perfect actress/ actor so as to make them more relatable. We meet their friends, and soon, see our main character fall in love. But this love is, for some reason, not allowed. This takes the dominant part of the narrative, the tension between what our main character wants, and what they should have. The romance continues to a crescendo point where everything inevitably falls apart. The friends come back in here now as, somewhere along the way our main character has done something that means their friends now hate them. Then, in an attempt not to stay too “down” for too long, a solution is quickly reached that sees the romance now allowed and the friendships fixed. More often than not, this occurs simultaneously at prom/homecoming.
And that’s it, each one of the above-mentioned films fit this formula, and yet each have been hits in their own right. They feel similar and are similar, and yet somehow, as a set they are different. John Hughes is, for most, the hero of these kind of coming-of-age films. But this new set of films are certainly not John Hughes-ian, they are something beyond that, created from information, they are Netflix-ian.