'To All the Boys: Always and Forever' Is a Charming End to the Netflix Rom-Com Series
The threequel ditches manufactured drama in favor of an actually compelling plot.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Netflix's John Hughes-inspired adaptation of Jenny Han's bestselling young adult novel about a high school girl whose secret letters to her crushes suddenly get mailed out to them all, is tough to measure up to. That first film, which came out in 2018, was all anyone could talk about for the following couple of weeks as viewer after viewer was introduced to Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky's (Noah Centineo) improbable but effortlessly shippable romance. It was so good that its sequel, which added in the tired formula of a love triangle, was almost doomed from the start, hopelessly trying to live up to one of Netflix's best original films. Luckily, the third movie, To All the Boys: Always and Forever, trades one boring trope for a better one, and gives Lara Jean and Peter the ultimate high school couple's reality check: college.
Fresh from a spring break trip to Seoul with her family, Lara Jean fervently awaits college acceptance results, hoping to get into Stanford so that she and Peter don't have to even attempt a long-distance relationship for the next four years. When she doesn't get in, she accidentally tells Peter that she does (thanks to a text sent to the wrong person; we've all been there), and he's initially so excited that she can't bear to correct her own mistake. Luckily, Lara Jean doing somersaults attempting to hide from her boyfriend that she accidentally lied about where she's going to spend the next four years of her life is NOT the entire plot of this movie, and that issue is actually, thankfully, resolved pretty quickly. Which is a good thing: Lara Jean and Peter clumsily trying to figure out what it means for their relationship if one of them falls in love with a college and a city on the other side of the country is the kind of compelling storyline that these two characters are rounded enough to explore.
Really, my only criticism of To All the Boys as a series boils down to the fact that we rarely get to see Lara Jean and Peter actually having a nice, normal time together as a couple. You barely get to see them enjoy being together before one of them (usually Lara Jean, bless her) finds themselves in a situation that is immediately blown out of proportion. But, I suppose the movies don't have a lot of time for that sort of leisure by design: There wouldn't be much of a plot if our star-crossed lovers were allowed to remain in the comfortable bliss of young love for the entire two-hour runtime.
What Always and Forever does that is markedly different from its predecessors is it shifts the focus away from the relationship almost entirely. Will Lara Jean And Peter Stay Together is still the driving thesis behind most of the movie, but Always and Forever leaves much more space, comparatively, for the two characters' relationships with other people—their families, their friends, their prospective classmates. Lara Jean's best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur) is in a cordially on again-off again "thing" with Trevor (Ross Butler), whom she fell for in the second movie, and Lara Jean's father (John Corbett) is busy proposing to their neighbor Trina (Sarayu Blue). There's even a little more explored between Lara Jean and her once frenemy Gen (Emilija Baranac), who actually had, in my opinion, the best subplot in the second movie.
And Peter finally gets to work out some dad feelings, something that has been hinted at in previous installments but never addressed. The loss of a parent is one of the things that Lara Jean and Peter found in common, not in a depressing way, but in a mutually constructive one. Where Lara Jean's mother died sometime before the events of the series, Peter's dad simply left their family and started a new one, something that Peter refuses to forgive him for doing. The Haunting of Hill House's Henry Thomas, a late addition, plays Peter's dad, and the movie is able to fit in a few tense scenes with the two of them, not necessarily of reconciliation, but of mutual acknowledgement.
That sense of tying up loose ends is really all that To All the Boys: Always and Forever needs to be about. Will Lara-Jean-and-Peter survive real life (family, college, the future) crashing down upon them? Maybe. Will Lara Jean and Peter, the separate entities, be all right even if their relationship isn't? Of course. It's a comfort and a balm, the type of movie that makes you want to write love letters.
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