To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) ★★1/2
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.
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Well, this movie was as charming and sweet as The Great British Baking Show, and like GBBS, you can find it streaming on Netflix. It’s based on a Jenny Han’s much-beloved YA novel by the same title and it’s been generating a lot of conversations about representation because the story centers on an Asian-American girl, something that is still rare in Hollywood. Even more depressing is that the author and director had to fight to cast an Asian actor in the lead role because, according to producers, “there was nothing in the story that required her to be Asian.”
Thank goodness the author and director did insist on Lana Condor for the lead, because she had the perfect mix of dreaminess and intelligence for Laura Jean, a character I immediately liked and could relate to. She’s a smart girl, who’s grounded in family life and schoolwork, but at the same time, she’s naive and nervous about social life. She wants romance but doesn’t know how to find it. Han said she wrote the novel thinking about her own high school experience: “Particularly being in early high school and younger, and the idea that you want these sort of [romantic] relationships and love, and [how they feel] so comfortable in your head, but then can feel so uncomfortable in real life.”
Laura Jean also reminded me of one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables. Like Anne, Laura Jean has a rich imaginative life and romantic ideals that aren’t quite met in real life. Like Anne, she unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with the most popular boy in school (and he with her). Also, like Anne, Laura Jean doesn’t have a mother, and I found myself tearing up a little when Laura Jean talks with her kinda-sorta boyfriend about their parents. It wasn’t the content of the conversation so much as the fact that the two characters were listening to each other. There was a lot of sweetness in the moment, and in this movie in general, of the kind that you don’t usually see in teen rom-coms.