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Movie review: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ sequel vows character development, authenticity

(Courtesy of Bettina Strauss/Netflix)

"To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You"

Michael Fimognari

Netflix

Wednesday

By Umber Bhatti

February 11, 2020 10:20 pm

“To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” proves that cheesy romances and love triangles are tried and true.

The second installment of the young adult franchise, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” spotlights the harsh realities of “happily ever after.” Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) are finally official, but despite being crazy for her boyfriend, Lara Jean can’t help but overthink everything about their relationship. So, when her sixth-grade crush John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher) pops back up in the picture, the heroine only becomes more confused, wondering if maybe he’s the one for her instead. Lara Jean’s quandary of who her true soul mate is results in a solid addition to the teenage romantic comedy genre by pairing a coming-of-age story with the thrills of first love.

Though the plot of the movie is arguably shallow on the surface, “P.S. I Still Love You,” handles its typical teenage drama subject matter with depth and maturity. Lara Jean’s confusion feels real and relatable, a testament to Condor’s acting. Whether it’s the opening scene where Lara Jean cheerfully sings along to “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, or later when she can’t get out of bed post-break up, Condor exemplifies the tumultuousness of being 16.

The fact that Lara Jean doesn’t like playing flip cup at parties doesn’t come off as quirky or cool, but awkward and uncomfortable – she feels like an outcast – something many teenagers can actually relate to. And Lara Jean has flaws too. Sometimes she’s a bit too pensive and quick to judge, but she comes to terms with her issues by the end of the film once she grows out of her insecurities.

Condor’s performance also embodies the euphoria of being in love for the first time, as she and co-star Centineo have undeniable chemistry. Since making his debut in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Centineo has starred in several other Netflix movies as the “hot, charming boyfriend.” Although Centineo didn’t shine in these roles, his anticipated return as Peter was well worth the wait. When the couple attend a carnival together, the dialogue between the two feels so natural, as if the actors were really dating in real life and ad-libbing their lines.

[Related: Q&A: Noah Centineo discusses his favorite movies and chemistry with co-stars]

But this isn’t to say that Lara Jean and John Ambrose don’t sizzle on screen also. As the old friends reminisce about their childhood days and being the only two dressed up on Halloween, there’s also a strong connection between them, making the love triangle feel exciting as it keeps viewers on their toes.

As a testament to Lara Jean’s synergy with both Peter and John Ambrose, the ups and downs in the relationships feel authentic. High school romances are hard, especially for teenagers going through the most embarrassing period of their lives. And the film successfully brings the awkwardness to life as it takes a deep dive into Lara Jean’s psyche.

In this sense, the movie is a true adaptation of the original novel as it gives viewers an introspective dive into the main character’s head. Whether it’s through flashbacks of her younger self or when her inner thoughts are projected as reality, Lara Jean feels like a fully fleshed out character.

Though the film follows Lara Jean, the narrative isn’t caught up in teenage narcissism, instead providing depth to the background characters as well. In a sweet subplot, Lara Jean’s dad starts dating for the first time since losing his wife. The narrative incorporates Lara Jean’s Korean heritage into the picture and also provides for John Corbett’s character to be more than just a “funny dad,” but a fully realized individual.

The same effect occurs as the film turns its attention to Lara Jean’s relationship with Gen (Emilija Baranac), transforming her from a mean girl to a more complex character. By providing Gen and Lara Jean with the space to discuss their issues, the movie emphasizes the importance of friendships by ending the bad blood between the two. The conversation shared between the young adults allows them a chance to move on, while providing Gen with an intriguing backstory, elevating her character from just the jealous ex-girlfriend.

[Related: Movie review: Cultural authenticity in ‘Always Be My Maybe’ spices up rom-com genre]

Aside from the solid script and acting, the film also goes above and beyond by incorporating a visually pleasing aesthetic. Pops of color are scattered throughout the entire film including delicious shots of Korean food, a dazzling carnival scene and festive high school hallways. The cinematography is stunning, and even Lara Jean’s bedroom feels like a fantasy.

Paired with the soundtrack, “P.S. I Still Love You” creates just the right atmosphere for the last act of the film. “Something Like This” by Gordi plays in the background, providing a soft melody as Lara Jean finally makes her choice between John Ambrose and Peter. The moment carries a melodramatic tone, and it is almost easy to feel like the main conflict of the movie could have been avoided had Lara Jean and the boys just taken the time to communicate a little more.

Nonetheless, with vividly saturated shots and two heartthrobs fighting over Lara Jean, it’s not difficult to be along for the ride to see who she chooses in the end. Of course, the journey isn’t over yet, as the final film of the trilogy is still slated to be in the works on the streaming platform.

One can only guess what other teenage love story is in the works.

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