Warning: Light Spoilers for To All the Boys: Always and Forever.
We’ve followed our beloved protagonist Lara Jean all the way to her senior year, and she’s got some big decisions to make. In light of her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky’s brow-raising Stanford acceptance (“Sometimes I read books that don’t have any pictures in them,” he clarifies to Lara Jean at the beginning of the movie.), Lara Jean worries about having to go long distance with him. Rejection letters, school trips, and unexpected self-discovery further complicate her college decision and her relationship with Peter.
Film Background: The RomCom We Desperately Needed
In honor of the end of this groundbreaking RomCom trilogy, we simply have to talk about its cultural impact. While the To All the Boys movies, based on the novels by Jenny Han, never saw a theatrical release or insane commercial success, it changed what a RomCom could look like in the age of social media, in a market that cared more about superhero films than feel-good meet-cutes.
We saw RomComs take over streaming; we saw Noah Centineo in like, all of them, and then some; but most importantly of all—we got an Asian-American lead. Lana Condor’s sweet Lara Jean was half-Korean, but she was a million other things, too. The To All the Boys series provided positive, nuanced Asian representation in a genre that really needed it. If it didn’t directly foster the creation of later Asian-led RomComs, it definitely had a hand in their popularity.
Also. Lara Jean’s high heeled boots. I mean, come on.
The Good: LJ’s Glittery World
As mentioned earlier, Lara Jean is a great character. She and her colorful, feminine, romantic perspective have always been the heart of this series, and it flows through everything we see—from the energetic pop soundtrack (finally, we get some K-Pop!), to gorgeous set design and outfits, to these adorable title cards. The movie is an aesthetic treat: every pastry makes my mouth water, every dress is worth an impulse buy, and every song sent me straight to Spotify.
Seeing Lara Jean discover her passions and desires for her future was so much fun. There’s a scene in New York featuring Lara Jean, a group of girlfriends, and a pink couch that sticks out in particular.
Side note: the supporting characters are awesome as always. Shoutouts to Kitty and Chris!
The Bad: And They All Lived Happily Ever After
Unfortunately, since all of the story surrounding Lara Jean’s self-discovery is so great, her scenes with Peter feel tired and uncomfortable, especially the serious ones. For all of his recent memeability, Noah Centineo gives a charming performance as Peter. However, when conflict arises, his acting is unnatural. Sadly, this goes for Lana Condor as well. Can someone tell them that flaring their nostrils is not the same as crying?
The touching moments we saw in the first movie just don’t land right this time around. And after all of that melodrama, the story wraps up in the most saccharine way possible. Which isn’t a bad thing by itself, this is a romantic comedy. But it wraps up without the characters having a true confrontation. (Without Lara Jean calling Peter out for his douchey behavior!) The result is that the “happy ending” doesn’t feel as rewarding or realistic.
So at the end of the day, what does the final installment of To All the Boys have to say? Not much. It doesn’t ask the deeper questions a movie about senior year could have—ones about independence, growing pains, or even, I don’t know, the complicated world of Financial Aid. In terms of the message, it can’t stand on its own, not without its connection to the first film (we’re just gonna pretend the second film didn’t happen).
But is it supposed to stand on its own? Not really. And that’s fine. This one was a love letter to the fans, and it was pretty darn good at being that.
If you liked this, check out our review of Mulan (2020)!