When To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before released on Netflix in the late summer of 2018, nobody suspected it would become a pop culture phenomenon. So, it was no surprise that both the sequel and last installment in the trilogy were shot back to back in 2019. But as the narrative becomes more complex, sometimes it’s possible to lose some of the things that made the first film special. As is the case with To All the Boys: P.S I Still Love You.
Picking up shortly after the ending of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, High school juniors Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) are officially a couple after pretending to be one in an effort to help each other solve their own personal romantic woes – Lara Jean trying to save face after five of her secret love letters are unknowingly sent to their recipients, one of which was addressed to Peter, and Peter trying to win over his ex-girlfriend Genevieve (Emilija Baranac). The two end up falling in love with each other, and for a while, everything seems perfect for Lara Jean. That is, until John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), the final recipient of her love letters, enters the mix in the second installment of the series, causing a slew of romantic troubles for Lara Jean that leaves her questioning her relationship with Peter.
Lara Jean’s insecurities are justifiable, being that she’s Peter’s second love after his breakup with a longterm girlfriend who is also her former childhood best friend. But Peter’s popularity and his ongoing secretive behavior only make things harder for Lara Jean, who gets into her own head and convinces herself that she’s only second best.
Of course, this allows the charming and lovable John Ambrose to tug at Lara Jean’s heartstrings. His natural allure not only makes him so personable with the residents of the Belleview senior living home where the two volunteer, but it also makes him someone Lara Jean can easily talk to. We also find that the two had much in common as young kids, making Lara Jean feel a deeper connection with him that she finds missing with Peter. This connection rings louder both in Lara Jean and in the audience’s heads as to why John Ambrose would seemingly be the much better choice for her. The differences between Lara Jean’s interactions with Peter and John are night and day, but with it comes inconsistencies that come off contrived in an effort to add more conflict to an already organic love triangle.
The sequel seems too focused on the end results instead of pondering the rationale behind each character’s motives. For instance, why does Lara Jean, who prides herself on integrity and honesty, hide the fact she has a boyfriend from John Ambrose? Why does Peter spend so much time with his ex while still telling Lara Jean she is the only girl for him? There is so much time spent jumping from action to action without a natural sense of progression that Lara Jean and Peter feel like strangers to not only themselves but the audience as well.
This is unfortunate, because P.S. I Still Love You could have been better than its predecessor with a willingness to address the topics of insecurities, sexuality, and anxiety that are typically associated with being a teenager in love, but the director wasn’t fixated with these elements as much as he could have been. If only there were more moments like Lara Jean and Peter’s first date and how it perfectly captures what it is like to experience something new for the first time, only to discover your lover shared this moment with someone else before you. It is these moments that prove why Condor and Centineo’s on-screen chemistry can’t be easily replicated as the two display a sense of much-needed vulnerability and earnestness to a script that insists on making them go against their characters at every step.
Maybe the change in director from Johnson to cinematographer-turned-director Michael Fimognari explains why the tone of P.S. I Loved You is too inconsistent when compared to its predecessor. From the questionable, if not frustrating, dialog uttered by Lara Jean and Peter, to the amazing soundtrack becoming more of a distraction throughout the film rather than as an assisting player. The film’s color palettes and framing look good, but at times that only distracts from the emotionally driven dialog and actions of the characters. This makes one wonder why Johnson was ever replaced, whose directing choices would have undoubtedly better touched upon the female gaze and rationale of Lara Jean.
To All the Boys: P.S I Still Love You is an incredibly frustrating watch because there are moments that remind you why you this series helped pioneer a romantic comedy renaissance. But a rushed last act that completely undermines John Ambrose’s character instead only shines a beaming spotlight on the inconsistencies of Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship. The cute ending that wrapped up To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before doesn’t work a second time, leaving the audience questioning the integrity of Lara Jean and Peter as a couple.