What To All The Boys I Loved Before lacked in originality, it made up for in its representation in teenage rom-coms and reverence to director John Hughes – the guy who understood the gender dynamics and teenage world that came with the high school experience, the best. But what was different about To All The Boys I Loved Before was that it felt more contemporary and more of a reflection of the multicultural society that we live in today. Backed by a very likable cast of characters, led by Lana Condor, who plays Lara Jean, the film was irrespirable charming and undeniably whimsy to a fault.
And because it was so successful, not to mention that it was also based on a trilogy of books written by Jenny Han, it seemed like a sequel was a no-brainer for Netflix. And the streaming service hoped to carry all of that enchantment from the first would carry over to To All The Boys I Loved: P.S. I Still Love You. Unfortunately, it feels stagnant as the sequel goes through the same motions as the first and does nothing to create challenges for Lara Jean to overcome.
Directed by Michael Fimognari, To All The Boys I Loved: P.S. I Still Love You centers on Lara Jean, who is now enjoying being a girlfriend to Peter Kavinski (Noah Centineo). For the first time, they spend their dates together as a real couple. Lara Jean’s heart races before they have a chance to sit at the table. But Peter romances her by talking about how the size of the menu should match the size of the restaurant. One thing is for sure, it a moment that they both have been waiting for. While there is chemistry between the two, their relationship will be put to the test later on in the sequel. Lara Jean’s insecurities will make her question if what she is experiencing is true love. Then there is John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), another recipient of Lara Jean’s love letters, enters her life in the most unexpected of ways.
It seems almost like fate that John Ambrose and Lara Jean would be volunteering at the exact same retirement home. He is as handsome and smart as ever. Things get even more complicated as he starts to flirt with her and reminisce about reading Harry Potter at the neighborhood treehouse or how went by their first and middle names. Of course, this is all just innocent flirtation. None of which Lara Jean knows how to process, considering she’s never been chased after.
The predicament only makes Lara Jean feel more insecure about her relationship with Peter. She knows that for all of the firsts that she is having with him, he has already had it with his Gen, his ex-girlfriend. Then there is a misunderstanding of where they stand and what they expect of each other. Of course, this leads to very predictable and teachable moments for Lara Jean.
Lara Jean’s crisis is the typical dilemmas that appear in any basic teen rom-com. It is something that can be easily overlooked, especially with the way that it was directed by Susan Holland, who directed To All The Boys I Loved Before. However, Fimognari seems to be more focused on the romance and less on the comedy and Lara Jean’s struggles. Though she continuously puts pressure on herself and setting up all these arbitrary standards of what is expected of her or trying to live up to those standards set up by pop culture, there doesn’t seem to be any payoff or lesson learned.
However, there is something to be said about what Lara Jean does that not only make herself a better person but also stay true to who she is. Despite all of the pressures she puts on herself, she shows that the extra mile for Peter. At the same time, she lets him know that she isn’t ready for something that will change her life. To which Peter acknowledges and respects the boundaries that she firmly establishes.
While these challenges will shape Lara Jean to becoming her future self, the sequel feels more like the same thing. Yes, there are difficult choices, and times where she needs advice from those closest to her. Seeing her navigate through these problems is something completely new to the naïve young women. But all of that seems to be glossed over. And then it falls into the eye-rolling tropes of out-of-context photos, heard-it-before explanations, maybe we should break up situations, etc.
Glossing things over seems to be a constant issue with the sequel, which makes Lara Jean’s conflicts trivial. The film spends a lot of the time dazzling the flirtations and the dates without establishing any real stakes. Sure, it may seem like two people are trying to woo over Lara Jean, but that aspect seems a little forced, considering that neither of them knows that they are in this bizarre love triangle. It only lessens John Ambrose’s presence as a potential romantic rival.
P.S. I Still Love You also attempts to address Lara Jean’s life as a half-Korean half-white teenager of a single white father early on. There are also times where she grieves over the loss of her mother. However, none of this is a part of the sequel in any meaningful way because the focus is on the love triangle. It would be easy to say that it is the plot of the film, but the cultural aspects and mourning the loss of a beloved parental figure seem to be nothing more than a minor anecdote.
But there are some bright spots for P.S. I Still Love You. Lara Jean gains an unexpected new confidant, Stormy (Holland Taylor), to help her manage the complex emotions that come with this new chapter of balancing a relationship and figuring out her authentic self. Stormy has this undeniable charm that is hard to resist. She talks about how her love affairs overlapped, how one either break hearts or has their heart broken, and that it is impossible to come out of the experience unscathed. All of that may sound a bit cliché and is a part of the rom-com fabric, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Also, Condor and Centineo’s chemistry continues to stay strong. Peter is this handsome devil with a jock attitude that is patient and respectful of Lara Jean. Whatever he does is just too cute, and even when he makes mistakes, he knows how to make up for it so that there are no more broken hearts. And Lara Jean is this adorable girl whose ideas of a picture-perfect romance is based on those aforementioned romantic comedies and romance novels.
To All The Boys I Loved: P.S. I Still Love You just proves how difficult it is to follow up a teenage rom-com. Despite it being based on a trilogy of books, the first ended so blissfully that it didn’t seem to warrant a sequel. But one was demand given its popularity. The only thing is that this sequel plays it far too safe and does more of the same without challenging any of its characters, especially Lara Jean. That being said, Condor and Centineo do whatever they can to make sure that their chemistry holds the audience’s attention until the very end.