Netflix’s sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before keeps the charm but loses some of its edge.
Netflix’s algorithmic approach to satisfying the needs of its many and sundry subscribers (and its willingness to pour untold millions of dollars into producing and distributing original content) often feels like they’re fishing with a shotgun — just spray and pray. But amid the field of mediocre teen rom-coms they’ve put out over the last few years (Tall Girl, anyone?), the streaming service struck gold in 2018 with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a sweet, inclusive, effortlessly charming treacle that feels like if John Hughes had a 21st-century understanding of racial and gender dynamics, and the results were shockingly warm, inviting, and downright fun. Now, Netflix is putting out a sequel just in time for Valentine’s Day, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, and while the surprise is gone, Lara Jean’s story holds onto just enough of its residual charm to entertain.
Making a sequel to a rom-com is never easy; what happens after ‘happily ever after’? Luckily, Jenny Han’s bestselling YA book has two sequels (of which Netflix plans to make a trilogy), so there’s a treacly blueprint to work from. As P.S. I Still Love You begins, perpetual wallflower Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and sensitive jock Peter (Noah Centineo) are beginning the furtive first steps of their relationship: going out on dates, showing each other off to their friends, and navigating the thorny question of when/how/if to have sex. The courtship period is done, now it’s time to really find out of Lara Jean and Peter are meant to be together.
This question is complicated by the arrival of John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), Lara Jean’s middle-school crush and one of the subjects of the clandestinely-mailed love letters that kickstarted this whole affair in the first place. He’s smart, sweet, nerdy, and thanks to their mutual volunteer work at the local retirement home (populated by a spirited Holland Taylor as Lara Jean’s carefree confidante), get plenty of time to meet-cute all over each other.
Taking over for Susan Holland, Michael Fimognari brings his expertise as a cinematographer to respectable bear for his directorial debut. The first film leaned into that poppy John Hughes feel, ekeing out a modicum of style while affecting a few Wes Andersonian touches like symmetrical framing and meticulously pastel-ed color grading. Fimognari replicates that look impeccably, though he doesn’t bring that much new to the table. Scenes largely rely on the chemistry between the actors, which, at least in the case of Condor and Centineo, remains nose-curlingly adorable.
But while To All the Boys’ appeal was in its winsome charm and effervescent atmosphere, P.S. I Still Love You feels disappointingly one-note in comparison. There’s a lot more exploration in the first of Lara Jean’s identity as an Asian-American child of a single father (John Corbett), and the lingering grief she feels over the loss of her mother. Here, she’s wrapped up in boy troubles, and I get that’s the point of the movie, but the conflicts feel somewhat petty and anodyne.
It doesn’t help that Peter remains such a handsome, inoffensive sweetheart that the Internet dubbed Centineo its collective boyfriend when the first movie dropped. He’s endlessly patient, deeply understanding of Lara Jean’s concerns (he backs down immediately and respects consent when they fool around in his car), and he even wants to be a good friend to his ex Gen (Emilija Baranac) without any ulterior motives. They can’t bring Peter and Lara Jean to make hard choices, or even make mistakes, to the point where their relationship troubles simply come from miscommunication and gulfs in expectation.
Plus, there’s no real competition for Lara Jean’s affections: the erstwhile love-triangle element of John Ambrose feels especially tacked-on, as they don’t do enough to really make him feel like a romantic rival other than his mere presence. He’s cute, but his scenes feel siloed off from the rest of the movie. Taylor’s irascible Stormy remarks to Lara Jean that “almost everyone in my love affairs overlapped with another one,” but that hardly serves as a mirror for LJ’s experience. There’s plenty of talk of broken hearts, but so many of the romantic maneuverings are so patiently received that there’s hardly any conflict to be found. It sounds weird to say, but these kids have too much emotional intelligence to really struggle under interpersonal conflict. They’ve got their shit together more than I do!
It sounds weird to say, but these kids have too much emotional intelligence.
Those are realistic issues for young relationships, to be sure, but they don’t always make for great cinema. That they work at all is a testament to Condor and Centineo, both incredibly watchable leads with pitch-perfect chemistry. Centineo, in particular, has that kind of aw-shucks Mark Ruffalo affability that just makes you want to pinch his cheeks. And Condor still carries all the anxiously infectious rom-com energy of a young Molly Ringwald — I predict huge things for her as her star rises.
As a harmless, candy-coated rom-com to throw on Netflix with your partner on Valentine’s Day, P.S. I Still Love You will probably do the trick. It’s got all the essential ingredients that made the original so charming, and there are worse things to do with your day than stare at Noah Centineo’s cheekbones for 100 minutes. But one can’t help but feel that the shine is gone a bit: just like any new relationship, the honeymoon period wears off after a while, and you have to try some new things to keep it interesting. Here’s hoping the planned third film will throw in the necessary wrinkles.
(Sidenote: it feels downright criminal that they didn’t call this one 2 All the Boys. Just saying.)
To All the Boys: P.S. I Love You drops a love letter into your Netflix queue on February 12th.