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To All the Boys I Loved Before was much more than just a sweet-natured romcom about a teenage girl whose secret stash of love letters to her old crushes were accidentally mailed out. It also heralded a positive step for representation with an Asian American protagonist in a John Hughes-style US high school film.
Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) returns in this first of two sequels, which were shot back-to-back after the unexpected success of the Netflix original in 2018. The first film ended with her getting together with handsome jock and former fake boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Now she’s blissfully living out her very own fairytale, except it’s not quite as blissful as she imagined. She has to deal with the anxiety-inducing reality of dating one of the most popular boys in school, a jealous ex-girlfriend, and – most importantly – the arrival of an old childhood crush (and recipient of one of those letters).
The first half of the film, adapted from Jenny Han’s YA book of the same name, serves as a vehicle to introduce the character of John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher) and set him up as a credible love rival. No mean feat when you’re up against Peter, who was swiftly anointed the internet’s boyfriend after fans fell hard for Centineo’s adorably toothy grin and chocolate brown curls. Lara Jean is reunited with John Ambrose after they both start volunteering at the Belleview retirement home. Studious, bookish and altruistic (he took part in Model UN after all), he’s everything Peter isn’t.
This means Lara Jean and Peter’s budding relationship is no longer the main focus; that’s a shame since Centineo and Condor’s easy chemistry was a huge part of the original film’s appeal. Even though John Ambrose, conveyed winsomely by Fisher, is a more than worthy opponent, Centineo’s soulful charisma is missed when he’s not on screen.
It makes sense, though, that Lara Jean, an avid romance novel reader, is still wrapped up in her imagination and tying herself in knots with her own thoughts. It’s no surprise either that she allows herself to be swept up in the fantasy of another crush when the reality of having a real-life boyfriend and trying to work out how to be someone’s girlfriend starts to weigh heavily on her. In that way, the film is refreshingly astute about how relationships can be a quagmire of self-doubt and provide highly combustible kindling for someone’s insecurities.
To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You doesn’t quite match its predecessor for heart fizzing romance – the first film dealt sensitively with loss and grief – but it’s just as entertaining and charming anchored by a supremely likable central performance from Condor. Once again, her Korean heritage is treated as just one thread in the tapestry of her life and there’s a cute subplot involving her widowed father (John Corbett) falling for their neighbour.
While the ending feels a little rushed as it skips ahead to tie things up neatly, it’s a fun and engaging portrayal of how happily-ever-after takes work.
•To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You is released on Netflix on 12 February.
Source: The Guardian
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