Generally speaking, the third movie in a trilogy tends to be the one that is lacking. However, I found this sequel to To All The Boys (2018) to be much better than its predecessor PS I Still Love You (2020). The less I say about the first sequel the better.
The third instalment sees Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) navigate her final year of high school with boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) as college looms near and their relationship plans for the future become uncertain.
Right off the bat I think the best part of this series, and in particular, this film, is Lana Condor as Lara Jean Covey. She is a delight and steals every scene she is in. I want Lana in more films given she is a great actress and I liked her casting in the recent X-Men films #justice4Jubilee. Her chemistry with Noah Centineo as well as the rest of the cast also shines through. This is the third time the cast have worked together on these films and it shows how comfortable they are with one another. Their relationships feel real and I like the way they interact with each other, especially the family scenes. It’s good to see some development of the characters in this film that feels more natural and less contrived like other YA based screen fiction. You know the types where a “it would just be fine if they TALKED to one another” would work out. Looking at you, Kissing Booth and 13 Reasons Why.
The plot feels more grounded than the last film. Lara Jean has to make a decision about which college to go to. Her life was mapped out with Peter Kavinsky. That is now in conflict given they have been accepted to different colleges. It was supposed to be that they graduate together, they go to college at Stanford University together, they get married, they buy a house, they have children. However, the plan is thrown out the window when Lara Jean finds out she wasn’t accepted into Stanford. It’s a momentary setback though as she has been offered a place at UC Berkeley, which is only a couple of hours drive between the two colleges. When Lara Jean tells Peter the truth (after about an hour of keeping it from him) he responds as the most understanding and reasonable boyfriend I’ve ever seen in these sorts of films. He tells her it’s okay if they’re only a few hours away since they can meet in San Francisco on weekends and explore the city. Together. Like they want to be. Lara Jean changes her plans knowing Peter is supportive, but still feels like this might make their relationship as a long-distance couple to be difficult.
Even though a typical teenager’s final year of high school is full of stress of exams and study, Lara Jean and her cohort don’t seem to do much study. Instead, they are treated to a brief excursion/school trip to New York City for no real reason. There, Lara Jean’s plans for college and her and Peter’s relationship is given another obstacle to overcome when she is given a tour of a New York University (NYU) campus and Lara Jean gets to explore the city. Understandably, she falls in love with the city and begins to consider whether she wants to choose the long-distance relationship with Peter at Berkeley, or whether to go to the college that suits her and her education aspirations more that sits on the other side of the country. This consideration is made even more difficult when a chance encounter with Peter’s father in a bowling alley gives Peter character development that has really been lacking. He divulges in essence that he has abandonment issues.
Ultimately, after taking her time to consider what is best for her, Lara Jean decides on going to NYU. Peter is upset and says hurtful things to Lara Jean. They break up again (how many times is it now?) but eventually he comes around to understand what Lara Jean needs and he needs to accept that their relationship shouldn’t focus purely on what he wants, and he needs to let her go do what she wants. They’ll make it work. They’re Lara Jean and Peter, as LJ says. And so they begin their long-long distance relationship and while he goes to Stanford on his scholarship, she goes to NYU. I’m glad she made the right call, and I’m happy the filmmakers show how supportive everyone else is, though of course, Peter needs time to adjust his mindset.
To me, Peter seems to be the most understanding and reasonable boyfriend I think I’ve ever seen in YA fiction. He supports Lara Jean though not without sharing his concerns of their future together, and it was nice to see a non-toxic relationship whether the female protag makes decisions important for her without being emotionally manipulated by her partner (the discourse on Twitter about protags in The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind). However, I do understand he says some hurtful things to her and that’s why she breaks it off with him. They each take time to reflect and she decides rather than to try patch things up in the relationship, that she is making the right choice for her. Of course, they end up together in the end anyway, but that was going to be a given.
My main grievances with this film centre around the runtime predominantly. The film is a slow burner, like Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship. It feels like there were too many subplots happening at the same time to pad out the run time. For example, Lara Jean’s dad’s wedding, Kitty’s meet-cute bf in Korea, Peter’s dad showing up after no memorable mention of him in previous films (though if it was mentioned in the second, I definitely fell asleep at one point so if I missed it, that’s why). I think my only other grievance is that money never seems to be an object. It’s a big house, her sister goes to NYU, she is about to go to NYU, and Lara Jean gets to go on a school trip from Portland to NYC after the trip to Korea within the space of a few months. I understand her Dad is a private gynaecologist or something, and would earn big bucks, but it just seemed a little too unbelievable that he can afford all these nice things? Then again, money has never really been an object in these films anyway, but it doesn’t help the believability of the story.
The film itself is beautifully shot. I enjoyed the neon and pastel colours that appear in almost every scene. Lara Jean is always in trendsetting cool clothes, even when she is depressed and baking to help, I couldn’t help but think “damn, that’s a nice jumper”.
Lara Jean also made the right decision which is empowering to see. Of course, money was no object, and she had full support of everyone around her. But she made the decision to focus on her education and her values and what would make her happiest all by herself in the end. She didn’t chase after Peter or try persuade him to go to NYU instead, rather she took the difficulties in her stride and became stronger for it.
Go Lara Jean!
TO ALL THE BOYS: ALWAYS AND FOREVER is now available on Netflix.
Netflix Review – ‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever’
Reviewed on Netflix, March 7, 2021. Rating: PG. Running time: 109 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of an All The Boys Productions, Ace Entertainment production. Producer: Matt Kaplan. Executive producers: Don Dunn, Michael Fimognari, Rebecca Glashow, Jenny Han, Susan Johnson, Scott Levine, Robyn Marshall, Max Siemers, Shelley Zimmerman.
CREW: Director/cinematography: Michael Fimognari. Screenplay: Katie Lovejoy (based on the novel by Jenny Han). Editing: Michelle Harrison, Joe Klotz, Tamara Meem. Music: Joe Wong.
CAST: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett, Henry Thomas.