“To All the Boys: Always and Forever” occasionally stumbles on its path, but ultimately provides a romantic conclusion that’s touching without a conventional fairytale ending.
Though based on the final novel from Jenny Han’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” series, it maintains enough difference from the plot of the book to become interesting in its own right. Deviating from the former “love triangle” plots in favor of addressing a fresher concept helped the movie keep an intriguing storyline without getting stale as a series. As students in their last few months of high school, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) begin to realize that their varying college choices could strain their relationship, especially when their plan of attending Stanford in tandem falls through with Lara Jean’s application being denied.
Even though I appreciate the plot’s core beats, the path to them often feels less like a cohesive story and more like snippets of scenes and ideas, some played through to the end and some thrown by the wayside. Often, details like Lara Jean’s detachment from her racial identity as a mixed Asian woman or her younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) dating a boy she met on a family vacation to South Korea are mentioned once or twice with no closure or development, making the ideas feel crammed in with little relationship to the story.
However, the theme of what to do after high school is a prominent and well-realized theme, and the choice Lara Jean took in deciding to go for a university she loved over one that gave her proximity to Peter was a realistic path for her character to take; the fact that in the end they chose to stay together regardless of distance shows much more fortitude in their relationship than if she had decided to compromise her ambition and stay near him.
The way certain characters develop in response to this overall theme is also written quite well, with Lara Jean’s best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur) entering a previously-teased relationship but still being uncompromising in her plans after college, and how Lara Jean’s former love rival Genevieve (Emilija Baranac) seems to express some authentic fondness towards her when they find that they both are interested in accepting offers from New York University.
Unfortunately, some of the scenes and writing used to communicate these ideas fail to fit in how they should. One thread that stands out is how Lara Jean takes an absurdly long time to explain her mistake to Peter, after she accidentally texted him that she was accepted into Stanford when her application had already been denied. One would think that she’d be keen to fix this mistake quickly, but instead she beats around the bush, taking multiple days (including the time to travel by bus and plane from Portland to NYC for their senior class trip) to finally break the news to him.
Despite my gripes with how the narrative is laid out, the cinematography as usual is vibrant and nostalgic, benefitting from being able to incorporate Lara Jean’s travels with parts filmed in New York City and South Korea. The score of the film particularly stands out, primarily featuring feel good indie-pop music as usual but introducing diegetic music as a larger part of the narrative as Lara Jean and Peter try to find a song to represent their relationship.
The film is persistently charming if nothing else, and Condor and Centineo’s chemistry continues to sell the romance up to the last minute of the film. Overall, it’s a worthy send off to a trilogy that consistently rose above other Netflix rom-coms.