Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Netflix

One of the reasons there are so few romantic comedy sequels is because we don’t always want to think about what would realistically happen after “happily ever after.” To address such concerns, the follow-up to Netflix’s 2018 hit To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before cleverly gives just that to its teen protagonist. In the first film, unassuming high schooler Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) saw her life spiral out of control when a series of love letters were mailed to recipients who were never meant to read them. To minimize the fallout, Lara Jean began “fake dating” dreamy lacrosse player Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Those phony dates turned into real feelings, of course, and the first film ends with a sweeping scene of Lara Jean and Peter finally admitting their mutual affection.

P.S. I Love You picks up not long afterward, with Lara Jean determined to make every moment of her burgeoning relationship with Peter as picture perfect as its beginning. Yet their promise to never break each other’s hearts is about as ominous as a detective bragging he’s three days from retirement. To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You tackles appreciably new ground for the rom-com genre as it digs into the everyday complexities of Lara Jean and Peter’s high school relationship. When it returns to sweeping romantic intrigue, however, it feels like a pale imitation of better romantic films—including its predecessor.

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Adapted from a trilogy of books by Jenny Han, the To All The Boys series has proven remarkably effective at zeroing in on the realistic hurts and squabbles of high school. In the first film, it was sore feelings over bus seating. Here, it’s the implications of who brings the pizza to Lara Jean’s party. If someone else does, it sort of seems like Lara Jean threw the event with them and not him, Peter jealously points out. That’s exactly the sort of thing that feels monumental in a high school relationship, but which few teen stories dramatize for fear that it’s too low-stakes. P.S. I Still Love You is at its best when it’s exploring its characters’ internal anxieties, rather than external conflicts. New to dating and keenly aware that her more experienced boyfriend has already had all his “firsts” with his ex-girlfriend/her ex-bestie Gen (Emilija Baranac), Lara Jean just can’t get out of her own head. Even—and maybe especially—in moments where she’s supposed to be lost in passion.

P.S. I Still Love You respects the emotional intelligence of its teenage characters, who talk about their problems earnestly and honestly. Yet the film can be a little too nice for its own good. That’s especially a problem when Lara Jean is unexpectedly reunited with her childhood crush and the recipient of one of her love letters, John Ambrose McClaren (Rent: Live’s Jordan Fisher, replacing Jordan Burtchett from a now non-canonical mid-credits appearance in the first film). Lara Jean finds his sweet, non-threatening dweebiness a welcome alternative to the complexities of dating Peter. Yet given that kindness is also one of Peter’s defining qualities, the distinction between the two isn’t that sharp. Despite Fisher’s considerable charms, John Ambrose comes across a little bland.

The conflict between Peter and Lara Jean, who volunteer together at the world’s most Instagrammable retirement home, grows more generic as the film goes on. All three points of this love triangle could use a bit more edge. That’s also true of Lara Jean’s friendship with spunky septuagenarian Stormy (a wasted Holland Taylor), and a subplot about the dating life of her widowed father (John Corbett). At times, P.S. I Still Love You seems as anxious about its relationship to its devoted fanbase as Lara Jean seems about hers with Peter. As such, it’s too frequently toothless.

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Photo: Netflix

Admittedly, that kind of thing matters less for a film designed to be (repeatedly) enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. The pleasures of this series come down to the charming chemistry of its cast and the style of its world, both of which are well served here. Director Michael Fimognari, who was the cinematographer of the first film, maintains original director Susan Johnson’s Wes-Anderson-meets-Pinterest look while adding in overhead montages of food prep that call to mind the soothing appeal of a Tasty video. In his feature debut, Fimognari attempts a few showy sequences that feel out of place, like a dramatic double dolly shot down a high school hallway. Even so, it’s refreshing to see a Netflix rom-com adopt an actual visual style.

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With a third film already in post-production, P.S. I Still Love You is a bit of a placeholder chapter. There are barely-there new characters (including one portrayed by 13 Reasons Why’s Ross Butler) and underused players from the original (especially Lara Jean’s sisters) who will presumably get more focus in the final installment. Though it’s once again welcome to see a rom-com dig into the specificity of the Korean-American experience and to explore topics like sex and dating from the perspective of a teenage girl, for the most part P.S. I Still Love You is a pleasant distraction without a lot of payoff. It doesn’t tarnish the original, but it never quite rises to its heights either.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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