THE STORY – Senior year of high school takes center stage as Lara Jean returns from a family trip to Korea and considers her college plans — with and without Peter.
THE CAST – Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Kelcey Mawema, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Henry Thomas, Sarayu Blue & John Corbett
THE TEAM – Michael Fimognari (Director) & Katie Lovejoy (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 115 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
When “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” debuted in 2018, it helped put Netflix on the map as a producer of romantic comedies. Heralded by some (myself included) as the best high school movie of the last ten years, the film quickly shot to popularity and had its two sequels greenlit. While the second film didn’t live up to the greatness of the first, the third and final installment in the trilogy does a much better job of capturing the charm that made the series so beloved. While “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” deals with slightly more serious topics than the first two, it boasts the same combination of family, friendship, and teen romance.
The final film is directed by Michael Fimognari with a script by Katie Lovejoy. The film opens with the Covey family on vacation in Seoul, and all three sisters – Margot (Janel Parrish), Lara Jean (Lana Condor), and Kitty (Anna Cathcart) – reunited. Lara Jean is excited to return home for her senior year, as she awaits her acceptance letter from Stanford University and plans out the life that she and her boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), will have together.
However, a rejection from her dream school and a class trip to New York City makes Lara Jean question her future plans and if her relationship is strong enough to survive past high school. From promposals to seeing other people post about college acceptances on Instagram, it does a good job of recreating the high school senior experience. But it also delves into struggles students face, like choosing which college to attend.
As someone who has read the book the film is based on, “Always and Forever, Lara Jean” by Jenny Han, it’s somewhat frustrating that they decided to swap out the colleges for big-name ones. In the book series, Lara Jean is deciding between UVA and UNC Chapel Hill, whereas in the movie, the plot revolves around Stanford, UC Berkeley, and NYU. So many TV shows and movies only ever show these top universities, which can place extra pressure on teens applying to colleges and even make them feel like a local school isn’t a good enough option. It’s not something that breaks the movie, but it does feel a bit unrealistic that Lara Jean, who we know is creative but haven’t seen any indication in the previous two films that she’s an exceptionally gifted student, would be so shocked not to be admitted to Stanford.
On the other hand, Lara Jean and Peter’s romance seems even better (and healthier) in this film than the previous two. They continue to reference classic movies (Peter at one point even quotes Mr. Darcy) and eat pancakes at their local diner. But while Lara Jean stresses about their relationship – that they don’t have a “meet-cute,” if they should take it to the next level physically, that they’ll break up in college – Peter is a solid and reassuring presence. Condor and Centineo have fantastic chemistry that helps sell the relationship, but it’s also refreshingly normal and non-toxic compared to what we typically see in teen shows and films.
One of the best things about the “To All the Boys” trilogy, though, is that it isn’t entirely focused on its romance. Not only are Lara Jean’s two best friends, Chris (Madeleine Arthur) and Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro), a strong presence in the film, but her family also takes center stage. From their trip to Korea to connect with their late mother’s culture to their dad (John Corbett) getting remarried, the film takes the time to continue to develop the family as a whole. There’s even a subplot for the youngest and sassiest Covey as Kitty meets a boy in Korea and finally suffers from some relationship drama of her own.
More seriously, Peter’s dad (Henry Thomas), who has been absent from the series, tries to reconnect with him throughout the film and Peter must decide if he’s willing to give him that chance. These scenes provide Centineo the opportunity to show that, in addition to making Peter more charming than he has any right to be, he also is a promising dramatic actor.
The film continues many of its two predecessors’ cute stylizations, like Lara Jean’s fantasy sequences and her imaginary conversations with people playing out onscreen. The fashion continues to be fantastic on all accounts, but Kitty’s outfits have certainly stepped up in this as she’s grown a bit older.
It’s a bit strange, and yet oddly comforting, to watch the Class of 2021 graduate in this film in an alternate non-pandemic universe. There’s something about seeing the students in New York City and noticing billboards for musicals like “Mean Girls” that have already permanently shut their doors because of the pandemic. But it’s nice to sink into this sweet and idealized world of the trilogy one last time.
Throughout her time as Lara Jean Covey, Condor has more than proved herself as an actress with an ability to make even cheesy lines seem sincere and builds a natural chemistry with all of her costars. She has a TV series coming up with Netflix (“Boo, Bitch”), but hopefully, doors will continue to open for her in the way that they have for her co-star Centineo. These films coming to an end sort of feels like graduating high school all over again. It’s bittersweet, even though it’s clearly time. While “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” may not meet the first film’s standard, it’s a lovely and fitting end to the trilogy.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The ending to the “To All the Boys” trilogy nearly recaptures the charm of the first film and Condor and Centineo continue to have fantastic chemistry.