By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
To start this review, I’d like to be clear: If I were in high school and the five love letters I wrote to my secret crushes got delivered to them, there’s no chance any of them would’ve returned my affections. Not only would I face immediate rejection (times five), I’d probably be ridiculed by the student body until the day I graduated.
For Lara Jean Covey, the beloved protagonist in Netflix’s teen rom-com “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You,” (“P.S. I Still Love You”) that isn’t the case. Even with her secret love letters out in the world, she has not one but two secret crushes-turned-suitors vying for her affections in the sequel to last year’s hit “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.” (Side note: this franchise loves its long titles.)
The sequel picks up where its predecessor left off and sees Lara Jean, played by actor Lana Condor, officially in a relationship with her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (played by the internet’s favorite boyfriend, actor Noah Centineo).
Despite finally getting together, it’s clear that this is an opposites-attract situation. Lara Jean bakes Peter’s favorite cupcakes for their first Valentine’s Day while Peter, who tries to be as effortlessly romantic, reads her an Edgar Allen Poe poem that he tries to pass off as his own. Lara Jean prefers a quiet night in, while Peter would rather be out playing flip cup at a raging party. She’s basically Pinterest and perfect manners personified and Peter comes across as a quintessential, uncouth jock.
Then, to throw a wrench into their burgeoning relationship, an old crush named John Ambrose (played by actor Jordan Fisher) re-enters Lara Jean’s life—and it’s clear he’s into her. John Ambrose is everything Peter isn’t. He’s artsy, cultured, thoughtful, and just as much of a dork as Lara Jean.
She subconsciously starts to indulge in her developing feelings for John Ambrose. Meanwhile, I wonder if Peter’s just straight up wrong for her.
I’ve always been a sucker for relationship angst—those “will-they-won’t-they” feels—and a love triangle is the perfect formula for it. But it’s the actual love triangle that sets the rest of the film on a path of recycled storylines. While the first film delivered something original with its concept of five love letters and the hijinks that ensue, the love triangle in “P.S. I Still Love You” isn’t delivering anything that we haven’t seen before.
My biggest critique was Lara Jean’s obsession with romance, which has become a rom-com trope in itself. She believes in a “happily ever after,” and it’s something she expects when she and Peter finally become an item. What Lara Jean doesn’t anticipate is doubt and jealousy. It’s frustrating, and at times slow, to watch her insecurities play out on-screen and how she quickly jumps to conclusions. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to watch her struggle with the naivety and lows that come with first love.
Also, I remain unconvinced that (spoiler alert!) Peter is who she should’ve ended up with. After sharing a kiss with John Ambrose, Lara Jean realizes that her heart lies with the jock and not the sensitive, caring heartthrob. The film did such a good job of painting John Ambrose as Lara Jean’s perfect intellectual and emotional match that it feels like a ploy to see her return to Peter.
Lara Jean finally acknowledges that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t exist and cites this realization as growth: “But I know now that I don’t want a love in half measures—I want it all. And to have it all, we have to risk it all. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because everything that’s happened has brought us here.”
Spoken like a true rom-com heroine. Or a teenager in love for the first time.
P.S., it’s a ploy because the third and final installment is coming. No word yet on the release date, but it’s already been shot. So, if you’re Team Kavinsky, you’re in luck. Me? I’m Team John Ambrose.
“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – P.S. I Still Love You” is now streaming on Netflix.
Vivian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.