Review: To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love YouTo All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) ★★
Directed by Michael Fimognari
Written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Jenny Han

It’s not a good sign when, watching a sequel, you begin to wonder what it was you liked about the original material. I went back to my review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before  and saw that I compared it to the Great British Baking Show — high praise, indeed! I was new to the world of Lara Jean and thought there was something sweet and unpretentious about her character. I also really liked Lana Condor, the actor who plays Lara Jean. She’s just as delightful in this sequel, but she can’t rescue the material, which gets bogged down in a lot of high school logistics and relationship drama. Also — and it pains me to say this, because he’s like a Mark Ruffalo Jr. —  but I think this second installment reveals the limits of Noah Centineo’s acting abilities. He’s perfectly cast as the unattainable love object in the original, but as a real person in a relationship, he comes off as a shallow performer. He just can’t convey the complexity and vulnerability that is needed.

To give a quick recap: To All The Boys ends with Lara Jean and Peter Kavinksy becoming boyfriend and girlfriend after Lara Jean’s little sister Kitty mails Peter a love letter that Lara Jean never intended to send. (There are some other plot machinations including a viral video involving a hot tub and the usual rom-com misunderstanding but the point is: she ends up with Peter.) The sequel picks up right where the original left off: now that Lara Jean and Peter are officially a couple, they are about to go on their first date.

The first date is . . . very boring, and a missed opportunity, in terms of character development. We learn nothing new about either Lara Jean or Peter. Their entire relationship, which revolves around minor jealousies and misunderstandings, is like that. The real stakes arrive when one of Lara Jean’s old crushes, John Ambrose, responds to her letter out of the blue. And then, owing to an unexplained coincidence that — at least according to Wikipedia — is not a part of the novel, Lara Jean and John Ambrose end up volunteering at the same nursing home. They hit it off, and it’s clear that Lara Jean could date John Ambrose, if she wanted . . . but does she? Suddenly, she’s in the middle of a the classic romance novel set-up: a woman with two men to choose from.

In general, this sequel was a retread of the original, with less drama and humor. There were only a few scenes that caught my interest, and I sometimes felt like the director, Michael Fimognari, (who was the director of photography in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), felt the same way, because he occasionally adds camera effects to speed up Lara’s movements, as if he’s trying to figure out some way to liven up the scene. The best scenes usually involved on of the minor adult characters, seasoned actors who bring a certain mellowness and spontaneity to what is often pretty pedestrian dialogue. I loved John Corbett as Lara Jean’s father, and Sarayu Blue as the neighbor Lara Jean’s dad starts dating. I also enjoyed Jill Morrison as the scatterbrained manager of the nursing home, and Holland Taylor as Stormy, a nursing home resident who definitely seems like she could be living on her own in New York City instead of an assisted living facility, but never mind.

Apparently, there is a third installment to Lara Jean’s story called To All The Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean. I’ll admit, I’m curious. Or maybe, like the boys in this trilogy, I just find Lana Condor really charming.

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