Written by: Hannah Tran | February 12th, 2021
To All the Boys I Loved Before: Always and Forever (Michael Fimognari, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
In 2018, the film adaptation of Jenny Han’s book To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which tells the story of Lara Jean (Lana Condor, Summer Night), a romance-obsessed teen who accidentally sends out a series of love letters to her old crushes, was released on Netflix and became something of a surprise hit. While finding it flawed in all the ways films of this genre often are, I fell in love with Lara Jean’s love story. This latest installment of the franchise follows her struggles during her senior year as she tries to get into college, help with her father’s wedding, and hold together her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter (Noah Centineo, Charlie’s Angels), once again. And while similarly flawed, it perfectly captures the fun energy of the first one and adequately elevates the stakes and tension to culminate in a stressful but sweet goodbye.
Although the second film in the franchise, P.S. I Still Love You, suffered from a somewhat lackluster plot and a stark tonal shift with a switch of directors, both the filmmaking and the story redeem themselves in this new one. While it may lose some of its comedic spirit, it never loses its charm. The direction feels like it perfectly embodies the awkward playfulness of the story while also assuming a more appropriate seriousness in tone. To support this shift, moreover, is some of the finest visual moments the series has to offer. The look here feels livelier and deeper than ever before.
And, most of all, its look feels ideally suited to the broadening of Lara Jean’s story at the center of it. Always and Forever seeks to provide each of its characters with their own struggles and their own sendoff. And because of these numerous narrative threads, Lara Jean’s own struggles are both more complicated and also more realistic. There is a natural, constant tension found in their painful everyday struggles that makes more sense of each of their motivations.
In these struggles, many of the characters remind us of why we rooted for them in the first place. While Lara Jean is as sweet, funny and relatable as ever, Peter’s character is written and performed with a sensitive side that was completely absent, before. Both of these characters are given an ending that provides them beautiful closure relating back to even the first film. And while the conclusion may feel impossibly hopeful, the way we have seen the characters face these struggles over the previous 90 minutes, perhaps, convinces us that it’s not so impossible. Paired with a refined sense of tension and understanding of its characters, the last of its franchise proves to be a compelling finale that makes me excited to step into the pages of Lara Jean’s charming world once again.