R E V I E W – M O V I E
When the 2018 adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel dropped to Netflix, it took the world by storm. It was everything the romantic comedy genre had been missing, an earnest love story that while embracing classic rom-com tropes eventually subverts them with its heartfelt storytelling.
The first installment of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is painstakingly simple. It is about an unapologetically romantic teenager Lara Jean (Lana Condor), whose secret stash of love letters to various boys she has loved throughout her life gets distributed, and that sets off the series of wholesome hijinks that capture the heart of every cynical viewer. It was not just about Lara Jean, however, it was about Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), who was a refreshing breath of fresh air from the toxic high school jock trope. He was sweet and nicely complemented the shy quietness of Lara Jean. Lara Jean and Peter’s journey endeared common viewers so much that it prompted Netflix to produce two sequels based on these two lovebirds. The first of the duo, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, came out last year. The final part of their journey came out this Friday, which shows the end of the high school for Lara Jean & Peter.
The movie starts off with Lara Jean in Korea on a family trip with the rest of the Covey family. The trip is all colourful montages of tandem biking and shopping spree that cements the direction the film will take: All Glitz, and No Depth.
Lara Jean, a senior at this point in the movie, is consciously waiting for her admissions decisions to Stanford. After all, as the movie shows us, Stanford is the cornerstone to the next steps of Peter and her relationship since Peter has already gotten a lacrosse scholarship to Stanford. As Lara Jean gets lost in the daydream of her future with Peter, we see them graduating from high school, painting their dorm room together, getting married, buying a home, and finally Lara Jean signing her book at an event while Peter looks on proudly. It seems as if there were no variation of the future where Peter has no input in her life. Even her future dream book, titled Whoa Whoa Whoa, is exemplified by Peter’s proud grin.
The main conflict of the movie is based around getting into Stanford, or more specifically not getting into Stanford. The movie does a great job just portraying the college application process in an extremely wishy-washy manner. Peter, who is not the brightest bulb by any means, gets a sports scholarship to Stanford University. Stanford, which is dubbed the Harvard of the West, is notoriously hard to get into. The acceptance rate of Stanford is even lower than Harvard, despite the former not being an Ivy League University.
On the other hand, Lara Jean’s entire motivation to study at Stanford is based on the fact that Peter is also going there and God forbid these two stay apart. The movie tried to explain away Lara Jean’s apparent ambition and motivation to study English Literature, which was neither shown nor stated in the previous installations. Understandably so, Lara Jean gets rejected from Stanford. She promptly gets accepted to Berkeley and New York University. It is interesting that she chooses these two colleges that are known to be extremely expensive, therefore making it clear affording them is not a factor in her decision. It is an extremely privileged position she never acknowledges as Lara Jean comes from a single income household and has one sister already in college.
The rejection effectively throws a wrench in the plans of Lara Jean and Peter, since even an hour away from each other seems to be fatal for their relationship. The movie is hell-bent on emphasising the low success rate of long-distance relationships. With Stanford being out of the picture, Lara Jean clutches onto Berkeley as it is only an hour away from Stanford. Peter, who readily accepted Berkeley as an alternative option for Lara Jean upon the insistence that she transfer to Stanford after a year, is unprepared for the plot point where besotted Lara Jean falls in love with New York and decides to go to New York University. The decision has its own consequences as it becomes the reason for the extremely short-lived break up of Peter & Lara Jean. (spoiler alert) They eventually do manage to make it right, with nothing short of a big boombox over the head.
The secondary characters of the movie also suffer their own setbacks. In the first instalment, Lara Jean’s family was as big of a part of the story as Peter. The Covey family is back again, but they were reduced to narrative points to move Peter and Lara Jean’s story forward. The family trip to Korea that was meant to pay tribute to Lara Jean’s mother is resolved in one scene. Lara Jean’s father, Dr Covey and his lady love, Trina are forcibly put through a resolution with their marriage. Even Margo and Kitty, ever the dynamic characters are reduced to Lara Jean’s advisors, with Kitty playing the fiddle to Lara Jean’s college anxiety and Margo being the voice of reason telling Lara Jean to follow the right path. Even Lara Jean and her connection to her Korean heritage splinters. In the first movie, Lara Jean and her identity as a Korean-American was effortlessly present in the movie. In the last part of her story, however, her connection to her heritage is resolved in one-liner.
Not that the movie did not have any good parts. The movie is gorgeously made, with a pastel colour scheme and beautiful cinematography. The movie also has some touching moments with the redemption of Genevieve, the former nemesis of Lara Jean and school mean girl. Peter gets a moment’s reprieve from his relationship shenanigans to forgive his estranged father, who walked out on him. It is also commendable that the movie shirked away from Jenny Han’s novel in such a way that neither Lara Jean nor Peter decide to compromise on their dreams for each other. There is no talk of Peter transferring out of Stanford to go to NYU as it was shown in the book (albeit in the book, Peter plans on transferring out of the University of Virginia to go to the University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill for Lara Jean). This creative decision did not cast any shadow on their overall commitment to each other. There were still love declared, new contracts made — all in their gooey glory.
It is to be said, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Always & Forever is not a terrible movie by any means. It is also not a good movie. The issue with the movie is that it tried to trick its viewers with saccharine cute moments when it could have delved deeper into the evolution of relationships as people grow up. Instead of taking the riskier approach, the movie took the safer option in its blissful idealism. From the franchise that had so much promise, the end product does feel nothing short of a copout hidden in colourful cupcakes and pop songs.
Raya likes to critically analyse anything regarding pop culture, and when she’s not doing that, she likes to live life dangerously — one House MD episode at a time.