To All The Boys: Always and Forever
WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Lara Jean thinks that she has her entire future post-graduation planned out until two life-altering trips cause her to reevaluate her family, friends, Peter, and future.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The ending of a film series is always a tricky business. You need to tell a standalone story while still tying up the loose ends of all three films. To All the Boys: Always and Forever is the perfect ending to a series that transfixed young and old across the world. A romantic comedy which uses a lot of tropes that we know but still manages to make it feel fresh.
In the classic film High School Musical 3: Senior Year, our hero Troy Bolton faced a similar problem to Lara Jean, his father wanted him to go to the University of Phoenix, as he did, but Troy is conflicted. Troy's girlfriend, Gabriella has gotten early acceptance to Stanford University, and that's very far, plus Troy also is not ready to give up singing and dancing (because at college you can't do both). However, at the last minute, he works out that he can go to Berkeley, which is close to Stanford, and he can play basketball and do musical theatre there. It's all so perfect.
To All The Boys: Always and Forever does not work out quite that way. Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) gets a scholarship to go to Stanford University, and Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has plans to attend as well, but that is until she visits New York University (NYU) and falls in love with the city. Does this mean the end of our favourite couple? Will the relationship be able to survive them being in two different parts of the country?
Because Lara Jean is our protagonist, we see the story from her point of view. We are with her when she stresses over getting into Stanford, as she attempts to plan her life with Peter and as she falls in love with NYU, so we feel as if we understand her. Lara Jean is both a character that feels fresh and new, but also relatable. Her mistakes, her decisions, her choices are coming from a place that we all recognise. I do think that a lot of this can be attributed to Lana Condor and her acting. The final film trilogy helps prove what a star she is, her excellent comic timing, and how she can make the audience feel part of the experience. Many of Lara Jean's decisions would seem frustrating or annoying if it was played by another actor, but because Condor's acting style has a sense of authenticity to it, we can't help but support her.
And then there is Peter Kavinsky, the man of all of our dreams. We have gone through quite a journey with Lara Jean and Peter (let's not talk about the second film) but one thing that Peter has been unwavering in, is his love for Lara Jean. Most of the love interests in teen rom-coms are boys who don't seem to know what they want, so Peter is almost a novelty. I do like how the character has grown but has still stayed true to the character we fell in love with in the first film. Noah Centineo has also done a good job in the third instalment, playing a more muted Peter but we still see his emotions playing out on his face even if he doesn't necessarily want to voice it.
The third film also gives the supporting characters a bit of the spotlight. We see fan favourite Kitty (Anna Cathcart) developing a romance of her own, Lara Jean's dad, Dr Covey (John Corbett) and his girlfriend Trina move forward in their romance, and Christine (Madeleine Arthur) gets a lot more screen time. We even see a different side of Gen (Emilija Baranac), who became more than the mean girl in the second film, and you can sort of understand how Gen and Lara Jean were friends as kids. The only gripe is that they don't elaborate on the character of Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro). As the only black and gay character in the main cast, he is mostly just there to throw out funny lines or give Lara Jean advice; we don't learn more about the character, his motivations, his struggles, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
A theme in the film is dealing with parental issues. Peter is struggling with his father's attempt to reconnect. His father left his mom, Peter and his brother, when they were young, and Peter feels almost betrayed that he wants to come back now that he has achieved so much. It was interesting to see something that Peter was struggling with from his point of view. So much of the series has been from Lara Jean's perspective that sometimes we don't get the nuance behind what Peter is going through. Through one important scene with his father, we see as Peter wrestles with his emotions, and we ultimately understand his motivations for his actions.
What I enjoyed about this instalment is that unlike the second film, conflicts are dealt with reasonably quickly. We don't have to watch in frustration as the characters struggle through miscommunications and misdirected anger. The book which the film is based on had plenty more conflicts which I'm glad the film decided not to explore. In keeping things simple, they kept the script manageable and we are able to slip in fun moments like the girls stealing a couch and taking it on the New York subway, or Lara Jean and Peter bowling, showing us how fun their senior year was.
"You can't save this relationship by not growing," Dr Covey said to Lara Jean, and it made me think about how much the content we have watched has changed. Even ten years ago, we wouldn't be surprised if one member of our favourite rom-com couples decided to go with the other instead of following their dreams, and we've seen the backlash in retrospect. Looking back, when Rachel decided not to take her dream job in Paris and stayed with Ross in New York instead in Friends seems preposterous now. Also, how many times have you seen that meme about how terrible Andie's friends and her boyfriend were in The Devil Wears Prada? Armed with the knowledge that we know now, it seems ludicrous for a couple so young to jeopardise their future for a high school relationship.
The film was not without its problems, but it was not glaring obvious either. It felt more authentic, and the drama did not feel as manufactured as the second film. Why with all the odds stacked against them do we still think that Lara Jean and Peter can make it? Because they are different, they live in a plane, unlike other rom-com couples whereby they seem relatable but also completely unlike ourselves or anyone we know. If romantic comedies are there to make us feel good and give us something to hope for, To All The Boys: Always and Forever touches all those notes. We want to believe that they can follow their respective career dreams and still stay together. As Lara Jean says: "We're not like those other couples. We are Lara Jean and Peter."
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: