Imagine, it’s August 2018 and you’ve just logged onto Twitter. Your timeline is flooded with Noah Centineo, Twitter’s newly crowned “White Boy of the Month,” a questionable trend that saw the masses obsess over moderately attractive male celebrities. This was before Centineo quickly became an internet laughing stock for his pseudointellectual musings and subpar star vehicles. But before Centineo captured our hearts and we collectively decided that we wanted said hearts back, Centineo was Peter Kavinsky, the love interest in acclaimed Netflix rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s difficult to imagine the film’s sequel, which premiered on the streaming platform last Wednesday just in time for Valentine’s Day, inspiring that same kind of mass internet craze.
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You meets Lara Jean Covey, the film’s protagonist, played by Lana Condor, where we last left her. She’s getting ready to go on her first date with Peter, and the film’s problems quickly start here. Lara Jean’s and Peter’s first date is a standard movie first date fare: dinner at a stuffy Italian restaurant followed by the supposed real magic. They release lanterns with wishes in them, their wish, never to break the other’s heart. Ignoring the cloying foreshadowing present, Lara Jean and Peter’s interactions are stilted. They exchange little jokes and mundane comments with a veneer of authenticity sloppily pasted on. When Peter asks Lara Jean felt about her date, she can only reply, “It was perfect.” Their dates are perfect… but not much else.
As the film progresses, this choice may seem more intentional. Lara Jean and Peter’s faltering romance happens simultaneously to her budding relationship with John Ambrose McClaren, a former middle school beau who finally replies to Lara Jean’s love letter, something sent to him by Lara Jean’s spunky sister Kitty in the last film. Lara Jean and John Ambrose volunteer at the same nursing home and their chemistry is immediately apparent, illustrated by their similarities and wholesome sixth-grade flashbacks that could garner the “Awws” of even the most hardened of cynics. The film could have a promising premise, the saccharine, superficial teen movie romance is now challenged by a genuine connection.
Yet, the film opts for the artificially sweet route. Despite Lara Jean’s insecurities with Peter’s past relationships and her feelings for Josh Ambrose, Lara Jean and Peter find themselves in each other’s arms at the film’s conclusion. The film shoves itself into a convoluted plot, much at the cost of the previous’ film saving grace: Lara Jean. I haven’t said much about Lara Jean in this review, because it doesn’t really seem like the film has much to say about her either. Her concerns in this film are realistic, what teen girl hasn’t felt insecure or had doubts about a romance? But, what teen girl only obsesses about these things?
The film does have some redeeming qualities. When the film lets go of its plot contrivances and exposition-heavy dialogue, it shines. Interactions between the Covey’s, particularly the “Fakesgiving” scene, when Dr. Covey, Lara Jean’s father, reminisces about his former wife’s to a new flame, almost capture the originality of the first film. Better yet, some of the brief references to Lara Jean’s Korean culture, like her explanation of the concept “Jung,” while she contemplates her feelings toward a failed friendship possess a certain poignancy. Though for all of these scenes, there are five that are formulaic and hackneyed, like when Lara Jean breaks up with Peter and a banner reading “Heartbreak” hangs above her head and she lip-syncs a break-up song directly to the viewer. (Yes, this actually happens.)
While To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, updated contrived rom-com tropes, acknowledging the silly sentimentality of classics like Sixteen Candles and even offering an interesting spin on the all-too-familiar fake dating plot, To All the Boys 2, stumbles with what could be a wholly original plot. To All the Boys 2, wants to be what its predecessor warned against. Let’s hope that the third installment To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean, trades in the aspartame for something a little more substantial.