To All the Boys: Always and Forever
Similar to many recent Netflix rom-coms, the experience of watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” is like eating a giant bowl of powdered sugar in one sitting. If viewers are into that, then more power to them. If not, they must avoid this film at all costs.
“To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” the final film in the “To All the Boys” trilogy, picks up where its predecessors — “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” — left off. Lana Condor reprises her role as Lara Jean, a diffident, high-achieving high schooler. In the first film, Lara Jean’s life changed when letters she had written and addressed, but not sent, to her childhood crushes were mailed by her toothy-grinned sixth grade sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart). One thing led to another, and she ended up with smoking hot jock Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) as her first boyfriend. Their relationship is tested in the second film, leaving “Always and Forever” to wrap things up.
The films’ world is squeaky clean, carrying a perpetual falsetto that brings out its goofy version of reality. The characters who populate Lara Jean’s high school are all conventionally attractive and conventionally happy. Pseudo-melancholic pop music plays over every scene. Lara Jean narrates her relationship with lines that can only be described as ripped from a 14–year–old’s Tumblr page.
There is something worth noting about the actor who plays Peter, as well as most of the actors at the high school — they’re all adults in their twenties. Perhaps the filmmakers haven’t seen what high schoolers look like, but Peter, played by a 24-year-old, does not look like an 18-year-old. The same goes for almost all of Lara Jean’s friends.
Lara Jean, now a senior, is hearing back from colleges she hopes to go to. Her number one choice is Stanford University, where she hopes to attend with Peter. But after visiting New York University on a senior trip to New York City, Lara Jean decides the East Coast might be in her future. The dilemmas that the film presents are barely enough to pass as drama. While most high school seniors go through the phase of questioning their college choices, the candy-coated atmosphere of the series doesn’t give the audience enough room to bask in the emotion that should come with it.
The previous two films in the series have also done this film the disfavor of wrapping their plot threads up in a pleasant bow by their credits. When Lara Jean goes through relationship troubles with Peter in this film, the audience knows they will be all right in the end. Even when Lara Jean questions her college decisions, there isn’t anything long-term that changes who she is and how she views the world. She is, in effect, the same person as she was in the beginning of the series — just as kind, just as hard-working and just as lovable. By the end of the film, everything falls together perfectly for her — ironically while Lara Jean’s voiceover tells the audience how messy and difficult life is.
Perhaps looking too deep into it is the problem. Maybe eating that bowl of sugar is what some audiences want. For that, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” will work like a charm. After all, the film is more of a fantasy than a drama. But for fans of legitimate coming-of-age movies that show the grungy, imperfect lives of young people — more along the lines of “Eighth Grade,” “Lady Bird” and “Dazed and Confused” — “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is best forgotten.