Lara Jean (Lana Condor) revels at finally having a first boyfriend and all the firsts that go with it. Her first date is perfect, etc. She’s sixteen years old, by the way. There’s something ridiculous about her finally having her first boyfriend, as if not having a boyfriend for as long as she does feels like a drought. But then again that’s when I had my first boyfriend.
But enough about me. To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the sequel to To All the Boys I Loved Before, shows Lara Jean navigating the girlfriend life as obstacles drop in front of her one after another. The first is that her relationship with football star Peter (Noah Centineo) has driven a wedge through her old group of friends. One of them even turns into an enemy.
The second is a consequence of Lara Jean’s actions in Before. That first installment shows her sending love letters to the titular boys. One of them actually responded and came back to town, both of them coincidentally volunteering at a fancy old folks home. This is typical struggle of the YA subgenre – whether opposites attract or she should go with someone who likes to do what she does.
What encapsulates Boys: P.S. are its characters and performances, specifically the young men in Lara Jean’s life. Centineo as Peter is a teddy bear. There’s a scene where he exquisitely butchers a poem he wrote for her that, well, it’s a spoiler. Her other flame is John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), capturing the niceness that makes her wish that he won’t be the one who got away. There’s also Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro), who works competently as one of her foils. Mahoro uses his short screen time to express the safe loneliness of being one of three gay boys in school.
One thing here, however, is that this adaptation of Jenny Han’s second book in the series has Lara Jean under the eyes of a male co-writer J. Mills Goodloe and director Michael Fimognari. Sometimes it doesn’t show, as it does with moments of cultural specificity and unvarnished emotion. And at other times it does, like when she’s wearing lipstick in a scene where it’s trying to make us believe that she hasn’t showered yet.
Yes, it’s trying to convince us of a world of jocks and cool nerds. Where people actually do things during Valentine’s Day, of suburban candy where some of the curve balls feel soft. But I keep returning to the performances here. These actors convince audiences that they and this thing they’re in are less disposable than its past versions. This is also a movie where hearts beat despite breaking. #TeamPeter.
Catch To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You on Netflix just in time for Valentine’s Day on Feb. 12th.