A charming, entertaining, and smart follow-up to its predecessor which works in all the ways it probably shouldn’t.
With To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, Netflix has a remarkable feat of alchemical filmmaking on its hands. Rarely does a romantic comedy – one about teenagers, no less – so capably turn the lead of naïve relationships, breakups, and friendships into the priceless gold of genuinely surprising, uplifting, sincere drama. And yet here we are. Like its excellent predecessor, this is a film about optimism, on the one hand, and cynicism on the other; the various anxieties, self-examinations, and intense mental gymnastics Lara Jean (Lana Condor) performs throughout the film are those of the audience, still skeptical that a teenage rom-com can be this good and that, as an adult, you can enjoy it quite this much.
But, again, here we are. Lara Jean is an endlessly compelling and relatable protagonist because, I think, she’s living a life that has assembled on the back of happenstance, mishaps, and the consequences of a private life that she fought valiantly to keep secret made suddenly, devastatingly public. Her current flourishing romance with Peter (Noah Centineo) isn’t just unbelievable to her peers – including her former bestie and Peter’s ex, Gen (Emilija Baranac) – but to her; a teetering Jenga tower of charming first dates and thoughtful Valentine’s Day gifts that she can’t help but feel will tumble to the ground at any moment.
To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You, then, finds Lara with the handsome, charming boyfriend she has pined for since childhood, and thus riddled with more insecurities and doubts about her self-worth than ever before. How can the bookish virgin girl cling onto the beloved school sports star? How can the beloved school sports star be so genuinely thoughtful and caring? This is, in her mind, all an accident. And while accidents happen, people don’t tend to linger at the scene. Lana Condor puts this feeling of angst and self-doubt across so well that what would ordinarily be insufferable scenes of impulsive teenage idiocy become careful steps on the road to Lara Jean discovering who she is, what she wants from her life and her relationship with Peter, and most importantly figuring out that she’s deserving of whatever she decides.
Naturally, a smart screenplay by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe adapted from Jenny Han’s same-titled follow-up novel introduces various roadblocks, including Peter’s lingering connection with Gen and Lara Jean’s burgeoning one with John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), another recipient of her letters whom she thinks is more “suitable” and just so happens to be volunteering at the Belleview retirement home where she spends much of the film taking advice from a new confidante in Holland Taylor’s feisty resident Stormy. Belleview hosts a glow-up and a neat twist on the quintessential high-school prom sequence, as well as lots of improbable nuggets of relationship advice that Taylor sells so completely they become uncanny truths.
But To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You isn’t all about romance; it’s about friendships, new and old and enduring, and about growing up and out into a world much bigger than the one that has sheltered you thus far. Lara’s older, wiser sister Margot (Janel Parrish) is back in Scotland and accessible only through long-distance video calls, her father is beginning to move on with another woman (Sarayu Blue, playing basically the same role she did in CBS’s great sitcom The Unicorn), and her past is being – in some cases literally – torn down to make way for an uncertain future. Lara’s romantic relationships form the crux of the plot, but her platonic ones help her to understand and embrace that she’s worthy of the love she seems so eager to deprive herself of.
Nothing about this film should work, and yet almost all of it does. The naturalistic representation of cosmopolitan high-school hallways is never made a big deal of and is all the better for it, and while the story contains genuine twists and surprises, director Michael Fimognari knows exactly when to subvert a trope and when to embrace one enthusiastically. To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You is about feeling rather than thinking, but it’s a reminder to allow yourself to feel, and feel deeply – sometimes that’s all you have to go on.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.