There’s one early scene in To All The Boys: Always and Forever. There, protagonist Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) tells a waitress that she wants to major in English Lit. That’s because, according to her, that’s what a college student chooses to study when they don’t really know what they want to do. Lara Jean chooses that major because she wants to be a successful novelist, and she’s figured out everything else in her life.
Lara Jean will go to Stanford with her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) and then she’ll go on that book tour. But Stanford rejects her college application. This leads to different doors opening for her, doors she didn’t know that she wants to open and enter. One of those doors open to NYU where the campus is the city full of women like her. But falling in love with a new city compromises her love for Peter and she must choose one or the other.
There are points in this movie where, as movies do, it lets director Michael Fimognari makes use of the whole frame. There’s enough space here incorporate comedy in his adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel. During one sad scene, Lara Jean and her young Kitty (Anna Cathcart) hug. To their right, Lara Jean’s best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur) eats from a tub of ice cream. In another, Lara Jean and Chris carry one of the latter’s trunks while their frenemy Gen (Emilija Baranac) makes a face at them. Those three have a history. But it seems like they forget that history when they’re sitting in a couch together in New York.
This moment of togetherness shows a ridiculously utopic view of New York. A city where you can party with the girl whose boyfriend you stole might just be the best city in the world. But it also shows that the most interesting relationship is between Lara Jean and Gen. To recap, they are friends turned romantic rivals turned kinda friends again. A worse version of this movie would have made Gen someone worse. Like the kind of girl who would manipulate Lara Jean’s college choices to get back at her somehow. But this movie is smarter than that, thankfully, seeing both characters as individuals.
But let’s return to that scene where Lara Jean and Kitty hug, which, come to think of it, is one of the bothersome things in this movie. They hug because Kitty doesn’t want her to leave Portland. Lara Jean and Peter have their own reasons for who they don’t want the former to go to NYU. The movie brushes those reasons off as those characters just missing each other. It also goes out of its way to not make those motivations sinister. This is, after all, a romantic comedy, an entry into the subgenre that doesn’t want to take risks.
Specifically, this entry into the To All The Boys series’ biggest problem is Peter. By the way, he, spoilers, breaks up with Lara Jean just in time for her dad’s (John Corbett) wedding to Trina Rothschild (Sarayu Blue). This doesn’t take away the work that Centineo does in playing the role. It’s that the movie is trying so hard to not write him as a bad boyfriend that it feels like a highwire act. But do viewers want him to be good? Sure. And does that goodness make these young lovers get back together? Well, there’s one way to find that out.
Watch To All The Boys: Always and Forever through https://www.netflix.com/toalltheboysalwaysandforever.