With curly brown hair, an innocent boy-next-door aura and the gold star that our society has reserved for men over 6 feet tall, Noah Centineo is the media’s latest heartthrob. His rise to fame can largely be accredited to Netflix, as he has starred in three of its original films within the past year. They include “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “The Perfect Date.” The media-services provider seems to have an equation: Centineo + generically quirky female character + a few cliché themes = teen romance movie. Unfortunately, that plot is getting less and less successful with each release.
Centineo was recognized for his role in “The Fosters,” but his Netflix career is what really brought him to stardom. Before any promotions for “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” aired, he had around 790,900 Instagram followers. Less than a month after the film’s release, that number was up to 9.5 million. Centineo isn’t exactly an overnight sensation, but he’s pretty close.
Compare the aforementioned follower counts to those of Lana Condor, the primary star of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” She started with about 103,700 followers and ended with 4.5 million. Not only did Centineo gain almost twice the number of followers as she did, his presence in the media was (and remains) much larger. Of course, Centineo had the additional publicity that came with being in “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” at the same time, but given that the two films shared the same target demographic and platform, it’s unlikely that this additional role was the only reason his Instagram fans far surpassed Condor’s.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” was Centineo’s Netflix debut and the most successful of his three films. With an Asian female lead (always rare in American film), it followed the fake dating trope in a surprisingly sweet and honest way. It was based on the book of the same name by Jenny Han and became available to stream on Aug. 17, 2018. The movie was a surprise hit, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 97% approval rating and IMDb giving it a 7.5/10. The sequel is set to air sometime in 2020.
“Sierra Burgess is a Loser,” Centineo’s second Netflix film, was released on Aug. 30, 2018, just 13 days after “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It was about romance based in catfishing and examining our typical standards of beauty. I’m not quite sure what the logic was behind releasing such similar films so close together, but there was most likely a business strategy behind the decision. If nothing else, it certainly kept Centineo in the news.
The film had a 64% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6/10 on IMDb. In other words, it wasn’t a complete flop, but it also didn’t come close to the success of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” One reviewer commented that, in comparison to its senior of 13 days, “Sierra Burgess” was “a cold and clumsy mess.”
Centineo’s latest Netflix original, “The Perfect Date,” is the story of a boy who pretends to be someone he’s not, and it’s no Academy Award winner either. Less than three weeks after its April 12 release date, it’s been rated 5.9/10 on IMDb and has not garnered the same media attention as some of Centineo’s other works. Interestingly enough, critics on Rotten Tomatoes had a 77% approval rating of the film while the audience approval was a low 33%. Averaging out the two numbers provides a figure that seems to reflect the general public’s attitude toward the film: It was overwhelmingly average.
I think Centineo is a decent actor, though I wouldn’t consider his skills extraordinary. My guess is that he won’t be winning an Oscar anytime soon. Because of that, it’s difficult for me to believe that his fame is a result of his raw talent. In reality, I would be willing to bet that a large part of his success is due to the undeniable fact that he’s incredibly good looking. So many teenage girls are going to love whatever movie he’s in just because they can stare at him for an hour and a half. Putting someone like that on the thumbnail of a Netflix movie is a great way to make people at least click on it, even if they don’t watch the whole thing.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with casting a Greek god of a male lead in most movies. Physical attractiveness is a huge part of the entertainment industry, and it’s no secret that Hollywood frequently chooses beauty over talent. However, Centineo’s three Netflix films all share common themes of self-love, confidence and acceptance, which can make casting such a traditionally attractive and masculine actor feel a little hypocritical.
In each plot, the female lead learns to be confident in herself and that society doesn’t get to decide what beauty is. Yet that same message isn’t extended to the males. Centineo plays the popular guy in the first two movies, and he very much looks the part. There’s really no sense that it’s okay for men to be anything less than tall and muscled with perfectly chiseled jawlines. “The Perfect Date” tries to make Centineo more realistic by incorporating financial struggles, but the relatability falls completely flat because girls fall all over his character at the same time.
The idea that a production company would make a lackluster movie but still expect great profits due to the female lead’s physical beauty isn’t a new one. However, the problematic tendencies of this have already been discussed at length. Why isn’t anyone talking about how doing the same thing with a man is also an issue? As much as I love looking at Centineo, throwing him into subpar plots because his appearance garners attention feels exploitative and wrong. And, before anyone tries to claim that it’s “not that deep,” ask yourself if you truly believe these movies would ever have been made with someone that the media considers unattractive.