By Valeri Guevarra, Editor in Chief (‘22)
Spoiler alert for all of the To All the Boys films!
Lara Jean and Peter’s love story ends with the third and final installment of the romantic-comedy book-based trilogy: To All the Boys: Always & Forever. Rising actors Lana Condor and Noah Centineo star as Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky, in the popular Netflix rom-com. Always & Forever and its predecessors are based on the New York Times Best Selling book trilogy by Jenny Han. The latest film follows Peter and Lara Jean into senior year and, in the aftermath of the previous film’s events, released in 2020, where they navigate the decisions about the future of their life and relationship. The film also features the couple’s school friends, Trevor, Chris, and Genvieve, played by Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, and Emilija Baranac, respectively. While being a rom-com, the film also explores Lara Jean’s family, including her sisters, Margo and Kitty, played by Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart.
The film begins on a family trip to Seoul, where Lara Jean is enjoying embracing her culture and, at the same time, missing Peter back in Portland. It is senior year for the couple, and the movie highlights special milestones of the typical American final year of high school, such as a senior trip (to NYC), senior prom, and the year-long stress and anticipation of the college admission process. Their story does not end without typical senior year ups and downs, including Lara Jean’s college decision (UC Berkeley vs. NYU) and will they or won’t they break up before leaving high school.
As a whole, the movie serves as a cute rom-com, but when evaluating the film as a sequel to the previous two installments, the Netflix flick suffers from the “sequel curse”. The popularity of the first one surely can be to blame as iconically enough, this time last year, Drumbeats negatively reviewed P.S I Still Love You. As the series progresses and in this final film, Lara’s quirkiness and personality disappear, and instead of charming moments where Lara Jean admires Drew Barrymore, these scenes are replaced with product placements and cliches.
Speaking of cliches, it wouldn’t be a senior year high school movie without a college plotline. People who read all the TATB books, like me, will notice how the films’ setting changed from the books’ original locations. In the books, Lara Jean, Peter, and friends go to school in Virginia. Peter is recruited to go to the University of Virginia (a more realistic choice compared to the film Peter going to Stanford, in my opinion). At the same time, Lara Jean is conflicted between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and William and Mary. The Netflix film’s choice to switch to Peter heading off to Stanford and Lara Jean weighing NYU and UC Berkeley creates great movie drama (scary cross-country relationship or a 1-hour drive to the other’s campus). However, since the drama and college names weren’t heavily involved in the marketing campaigns to build up tension, I feel the dramatization could have still been successfully done while also staying true to the source material. But, hey, that can probably be said of a lot of book-to-film adaptations.
The setting change is not the only one of the differences between book and movie. The film, again, heavily focuses on college and Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship, so many plotlines from the third book are either not addressed or reduced to one scene, including an important step-mom/family side plot. On top of college, travels, and relationships, Lara Jean is also planning her father’s wedding to their neighbor, a relationship that started in the second film. The book explores major themes of parental figures and familial relationships, specifically with Lara Jean’s older sister Margo where she struggles with her deceased mom being replaced, which becomes reduced to a single scene. The exclusion of the plotline, of course, may only disappoint the readers, but it also contributes back to the lack of depth and deterioration of both Lara Jean’s character and story compared to its first film.
The first film was released in 2017 when I was in 7th grade, so it’s been interesting to see Lara Jean grow up alongside me. Being a junior, the classic senior year moments, like prom and graduation, were enjoyable, but at the same time, Lara Jean being a part of the Class of 2021 in a universe where COVID-19 didn’t happen hurt a little as many of my friends will never experience those moments in the same way the film depicts. Although the film and its team are not at fault as the installment was filmed in 2019 back to back with the February 2020 sequel, way before the pandemic, the moments do feel insensitive, especially since the audience is mainly teens and marketed as a feel-good rom-com flick.
Even with its problems, the film does shine with Condor and Centineo’s chemistry that remains after three films. The two have grown in both recognition and film work since the first film, and their engaging performances in this final installment remind the audience of the talent that first earned them their newfound fame. Overall, the Netflix romantic comedy is a traditional feel-good high school film that will be enjoyed by young teens casually scrolling on Netflix or keeping up with the trilogy, but it may disappoint readers of the books and sadden upperclassmen (juniors & seniors), like myself.