Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky’s high school romance has eventually come into the closing stage with To All the Boys: Always and Forever. Michael Fimognari, helmer of the second installment, returns in the directorial duty with Katie Lovejoy taking over the writing department. The power couple, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo return with the whole ensemble for a final stroke in this saccharine-heavy teen romance that starts exhilaratingly with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) and immediately shows sign of fatigue by the release of To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020).
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The narrative core has matured as the characters aged on screen. It’s no longer the lovey-dovey romantic comedy of errors (involving unsent love letters that get accidentally sent out and the drama of faux relationship) that kickstarted the whole thing. It’s no longer the Teen Romance 101 where the couple had to sort everything about getting into a romantic relationship —including navigating around her insecurity, jealousy, other suitors, etc. Always and Forever veers towards the edge of innocence, where the future may or may not change with a single small decision like applying to the same college, for example.
As high school comes to an end for Lara Jean (Condor) and Peter (Centineo), they have to set their minds on the future and all the uncertainties it carries. The stakes are heightened; but, the characters are as naive as they could be —waiting to make any mistake just to learn of it the hard way (although, in To All the Boys universe, the hard way isn’t always the real, hard way). The couple’s mutual fear is if they don’t get accepted to the same colleague. Peter, the jock all the way, has already got his wild card to Stanford; meanwhile, Lara is still waiting for the acceptance email. They both believe that a long-distance relationship might jeopardize their commitment to being together forever. To add to the complication, they don’t have any back-up plan. If it’s doomed, it’s doomed.
Related Post: Review: To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020)
Always and Forever doesn’t always dive headfirst into the future talks. Similar to P.S. I Still Love You, the story enjoys a little more crowd-pleasing moments for romantic set-pieces, giving Condor and Centineo more screen times together without addressing the elephant in the room. Even, Lara Jean still manages to task herself and Peter to break down their relationship using rom-com tropes (after an epiphanic movie time seeing Say Something). This serves more like a decoy to postpone whatever the future might have for the couple. For a moment, this segment feels refreshing —giving a needed from the serious discussion; but, as it drags along, it diverts the narrative from the potentially thought-provoking discussion about the teen psyche, especially in conjunction with romance and the future.
The key to To All the Boys: Always and Forever is always about growing up as a person. Growing up isn’t the same as running away from any potential conflicts; it means coming up on term with whatever perils it might be. It’s become a pivotal message in the narrative development as people around Lara Jean have their own growing up moments cramped in this story. Her father (John Corbett) is moving on with a new love journey; the little sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart) has fully grown into a teenage girl; even, Peter has come on a term with his past. This has been a missed opportunity that all these growing-up moments coming separately instead of juxtaposing Lara Jean and Peter’s growth as a romantic couple. However sweet the closure will be, it feels like a shell of the first film’s sensibility. It has the chance to dig deeper into a more serious discourse, but it ends up dipping in the shallow.