Review: The To All the Boys Sequel Takes a Deeper Look at Teen Romance

Pop Culture

In 2018, Netflix’s film adaptation of novelist Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before became something of a sensation. Starved for this kind of earnest teen romance—a hunger perhaps stoked by Love, Simon, which had premiered earlier that year—people flocked to Susan Johnson’s sweet, colorful film. Johnson and screenwriter Sofia Alvarez figured out a way to take the preciousness of Han’s novel, so full of the lovable if mannered idiosyncrasies of young adult fiction, and translate it to a medium that is slightly less forgiving of such cutesy indulgences.

That said, the movie was pretty gloopy in parts, and I found myself unable to love it as much as so many fans did. Which, of course, is not a problem. The movie wasn’t made for me, and even through my vague distaste for it, I can still appreciate the thoughtful touches that have earned such ardency from so many fans. So I approached the sequel, arriving on Netflix just in time for Valentine’s Day and lugging along the awkward title To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, with both skepticism and a genuine desire to be won over. Perhaps this time around I would experience the alchemical transportation into love land that so many people did the first time.

While Michael Fimognari’s film does have some heart-fluttery moments—chiefly the first reappearance of heartthrob Peter (Noah Centineo), framed in a doorway and blessed with a nice winter jacket and a crooked smile—what’s more arresting is its gentle wisdom about all the stuff that happens after the swoon. The second part of a trilogy (the third film has already been shot and will be released later this year), P.S. I Still Love You is able to dwell in a credibly confused middle place, where the rapid blushes of teen romance must contend with all the restlessness, uncertainty, and selfishness of adolescence.

The bright, perspicacious Lana Condor is back as Lara Jean, the earnest romantic whose meant-to-be-unsent love letters, written to five unrequited crushes, kicked off the first film’s action. In P.S., she’s snagged the hunk of her dreams, Peter, and is trying to figure out how to live with a fantasy finally realized. Think of this installment as everything after the nervous bus ride at the end of The Graduate, when a new couple so swept up in the excitement of one another has to then figure out all the boring, anxious negotiations of daily life together. Mind you, this is all still bathed in the lush, genial aesthetics of the first film—but there are genuinely difficult things happening in Lara Jean’s pretty world.

Most notable is the reemergence of another crush, the charming John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), with whom Lara Jean was infatuated all the way back in sixth grade. He’s finally responded to the letter Lara Jean never meant to send (indeed, her scheming younger sister did it), and wouldn’t you know it, he’s maybe got a little crush on her too. So what’s to be done? P.S. I Still Love You is smart in the way it depicts Lara Jean’s ambivalence, the very real state of that age (and, really, many other ages) of not knowing what one wants. Or, more accurately, wanting so many things at once. Yes, Peter is the platonic ideal of some kind of boyfriend, and yet so is John Ambrose, in his more unassuming way.

Lara Jean’s insecurities in her relationship with Peter stem from his wealth of romantic and sexual experience as compared to Lara Jean’s near entire lack of it. That conflict is teased out carefully in the film (Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe wrote the script), bubbling up organically as Lara Jean questions the premise of happily ever after. Condor finds new maturity to play, dawning awareness of self and surroundings, which augurs good things for the impending third installment.

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