I wish I’d had To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before growing up. It was a joy reading the books ,at last, to find a sweet Asian protagonist so much like me. In significant ways, like the strong bond with her sisters and the volunteering with the elderly like I did as a teen, to little details; like her love of Lady Grey tea, and her beautiful (if perpetually untidy) room.
Lara Jean Covey quickly became close to my heart, and on screen Lana Condor brought her to life. Condor’s acting is perfection, expressions easily shift from playful to indignant to serious to loving – actualising the emotional rollercoaster of teen romance. In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, director Susan Johnson carefully captured the Covey universe, balancing the idealistic fantasies with genuine, down-to-earth moments of connection.
Despite the melodrama of the premise, the emotional maturity of Peter and Lara Jean who’ve both lost parents shone through, and made their relationship more and more believable. Even Noah Centineo had a rogue-ish, vulnerable charm that Netflix has been failing to reproduce since. Fellow Screen Queens agreed as it made #11 in our Essential Female Directed Films of the Decade. It is with this accolade and apprehension in knowing Susan Johnson didn’t get to direct this, that I approached the sequel.
P.S. I Still Love You lives up to its name, charting the ups and downs of the central couple as old friends and old insecurities return. Now Lara Jean and Peter are officially dating, she finds her elation and her anxiety increase in equal measure. To add to her romantic confusion, childhood crush John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher) replies to her letter, and joins her in volunteering with the elderly.
Despite its familiarity, the energy of the film feels surprisingly different, with the direction attempting to follow the frames of the original without its nuance. Though, at a similar run-time to its predecessor, at this pace it needed longer. There’s something too quick about the emotional explorations this time round, the dialogue raises questions and hurries with the answers. The script comes frustratingly close to the mark, but somehow avoids full closure. It could fit in with Lara Jean’s self-centred focus on her issues with Peter, but the minor characters that made the first film more layered, like Margot (Janel Parrish), Kitty (Anna Cathcart), Chris (Madeleine Arthur), Dr. Covey (John Corbett) and even Trevor (Ross Butler) feel relegated to supporting roles without individual development.
Nonetheless, what makes the film is the heartfelt performances in spite of these truncated conversations, once again from Condor and Centineo and also the newly introduced characters who fit right in. Jordan Fisher as John Ambrose eclipses the original casting with his good humour, bringing serious competition for Kavinsky. His return brings back Lara Jean’s childhood memories, including a food-related Halloween costume incident (Angus, Thongs.. anyone?), and from the moment he is introduced he effortlessly embodies his book counterpart’s charisma, breezing easily through the awkwardness that comes with the letter situation.
Though Bellevue Retirement Home is too glamorous to suspend disbelief, Holland Taylor fills a maternal void as Stormy, a fairy godmother to calm the chaos. There may also have been audible delight from this critic, when they realised the beautiful divorcée next door is played by a Indian actress. Though it’s early days for Trina Rothschild (Sarayu Blue), she brings a healthy dose of simplicity outside of Lara Jean’s nightmares with love.
Perhaps I just prefer origin stories, but P.S. I Still Love You represents a tonal shift in the trilogy. There’s a lot to be admired, all the food looks delicious and there’s a lovely honesty about insecurities and consent which is ever important in young-adult films. The film also continues to embrace the character’s Korean heritage, and will undoubtedly mean so much to Asian girls growing up with Condor as their Cinderella. It’s a beautiful, overall enjoyable sequel with several tender moments, but I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. While the original could have remained a stand-alone, this addition feels incomplete. But, ever optimistic, I hold out hope that this awkward middle phase can still be resolved by the final installment.
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is streaming on Netflix now
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a third-year Biomed at the University of Sheffield. For insight into her personality, her favourite films are: Bright Star, Paddington 2, Taare Zameen Par and Pride & Prejudice and in 2017 she listened mostly to the Hidden Figures soundtrack. She loves TV shows with original concepts, witty writing, and diverse casting. Examples include Legion, Gravity Falls, and Sense 8. Her Twitter and TVShowTime are both @lafatimayette.