Review by Sophia Thomson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (BFYR), May 3, 2021
368 pages, Paperback, $19.99, 9781665901659
Age 12+, grade 7+
Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Romantic Comedy
“If my mom had still been alive, would she have changed her tune by now on the whole bad-boy thing? It seemed to me that because of things like car accidents and lost loves, life and death and broken hearts, we should grab every moment and absolutely devour the good parts. Wouldn’t she want that? For me to ad-lib my life instead of living by some typed-in-twelve-point-Courier-New-Script?”
For 17-year-old Liz Buxbaum, there’s nothing better than a romantic comedy on the screen and the soundtrack playing from the speakers. Well, nothing except having her mom enjoying it with her. After losing her mother when she was ten, Liz holds onto their connection by doing the thing that they loved the most: watching sappy, wonderfully over-the-top dramatic rom-coms. From Bridget Jones’s Diary, to Ten Things I Hate About You, to When Harry Met Sally, to no less than 20 other classic rom-coms mentioned in the novel, the onscreen land of true love is Liz’s second home.
As the activities of senior year commence, Liz’s mother’s absence is a glaring void. With her best friend, Jocelyn, trying to get her to go prom dress shopping at every turn, and a step-mother, Helena, who’s the polar opposite of her late mom, all Liz wants to do is disappear into the movies and soundtracks that make life’s edges a little softer. Unfortunately, on top of dodging both Helena and Jocelyn, Liz also has to deal with the nuisance next door, Wes Bennett, with whom she’s been competing for the sole parking spot on their street since forever.
When a childhood crush, Michael Young, moves back to town, Liz sees it as a sign from the universe — and her mom — to get the rom-com worthy love story that movies are made of. But Liz will need Wes’ help if she wants Michael to ask her to prom.
With laugh-out-loud teenage awkwardness perfectly written into existence, Lynn Painter brings us right into what it means to be 17 and searching for our own movie-worthy love story. At first glance, Better Than the Movies is predictable in the way that all love stories seem to be. But Painter brings something new to the romance table by successfully incorporating all the tropes possible into Liz’s journey of love. From enemies-to-lovers, to second-chance-romance, to the big makeover, to fake dating, to a love triangle – if you have a favourite romance trope, this novel likely squeezed it in. On top of that, the embarrassing high-school moments are painfully palpable. Between an unsavoury puke scene, a basketball fiasco, and a huge web of lies, Liz falls apart as much as she falls in love. Things are only further complicated when the boy she has known since kindergarten is so clearly a fun-loving goofball with the quintessential smirk that all cute boys seem to have in romance novels.
While there was a subplot with Liz wreaking havoc with her lies, I wished I could’ve seen more emotional depth in the ramifications Liz’s lies have with Jocelyn. We see Liz pull away from Jocelyn throughout the novel; their friendship becomes far removed from the story. It’s only at the end, with clear communication, that things are restored. Similarly, with Liz feeling the loss of her mother so much, I wanted to know more about her relationship with Helena. Still, all the loose ends are nicely tied up to give us a wonderful Happily Ever After. In the end, this was more the ultimate rom-com about rom-coms with countless pop-culture references than a meditation on friendship and loss, which I’d still call a win.
Better Than the Movies is light, fun, and reads like the love-child of To all the Boys I Loved Before and The Duff (the film, not so much the novel). This novel is perfect for romance lovers who want a hilarious feel-good story full of awkward, heartfelt, and swoon-worthy characters.
Sophia Thomson lives and writes from North Vancouver. Her focus of study is TV writing and YA fiction at the University of British Columbia School of Creative Writing. She’s currently writing her debut YA novel. Primarily, she writes funny love stories. Find her on Instagram @sophiathomsonreads.