Movie Review: To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (What a ridiculously unwieldy title that is!) is a sequel to the YA novel adaptation, To All the Boys I've Loved Before. This one begins with Lara Jean and Peter safely and securely infatuated with each other. That is until Lara Jean gets a response to the one letter her sister sent that hasn't had a reply. Enter the dreamy and sensitive, John Ambrose. It wouldn't have been as big of a deal if the man himself hadn't come back into Lara Jean's life, but now Lara Jean has to choose, the artist or the jock. It stars Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Jordan Fisher, Anna Cathcart, Janel Parrish, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett, and Holland Taylor. It is directed by Michael Fimognari and written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe. It is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
I fell head over heels for the charm bomb that was To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Though, I should have rewatched it before I took on this sequel. I was a bit lost with some aspects. I remembered all the family members and the principle couple, but I was completely lost with Lara Jean's friends, enemies, and other classmates. P.S. I Still Love You is a true sequel in that sense and in the fact that it takes place in the same school year as the first one. It's very John Wick-ian in that regard, though the only violence done is the heart break that comes with a love triangle.
I remember being swept away, as Lara Jean was, with Peter, but here I saw through him and the performance was less charming, more sad puppy dog eyes. It was so clear that these two were an imperfect match. That's really what Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe's script does well. It takes off the blinders we had for Peter because he is a big personality in the first film, but here we see him only through Lara Jean's new perspective. She's found a different boy who so clearly compliments her personality. That's an intriguing conflict.
I also like that Lara Jean's anxieties and fears over Peter's commitment weren't wholly, jealousy and suspicion. There's this terrific scene between Lara Jean and Gen, her erstwhile best friend, now romantic rival, where Lara Jean confesses she's so upset not because Peter's not over Gen, but because she, Lara Jen, isn't. The two of them have this pull and even if the schism is irreconcilable, they're still attached to each other.
I just wish Lara Jean and Peter weren't so attached to each other. Yes, that's where I find fault with the film, and I guess the book, but it may be different there. I like Peter, he's sweet, kind, and considerate, but the seemingly complimentary nature of John Ambrose is too intriguing to pass up, in my view. Screenplays and books make couples into these forever pairings because they were meant to be, but meant to be is only in the author's mind. Why are we forced to keep indulging a couple when their attraction seems so shallow?
Also, why are we forced into the trope of the lovelorn, but extremely wise, gay character? I want there to be much more queer representation, but more of the couple of women holding hands being serenaded in the cafeteria than this tired, old song. Apparently there are only two other openly gay men at their school. Aren't their boys at other schools? This is the 21st Century and you're in Portland, OR, not rural Wyoming, get on the internet!
I did like that director Michael Fimognari, who served as his own cinematographer, did some really great things with the fantasy elements in the story. One of my favorite shots is where the character is on a dolly, being pulled forward while otherwise standing still. The shot starts with a fantastic blue banner that reads, "Heartbreak" in a scripted font and then Lara Jean is pulled like a zombie through the halls and it ends with a smash cut to her staring into space. It's a really clever device and compliments the crane shot at the end.
From top to bottom, though the one person that completely made this film for me is Lana Condor. Her performance is so effortless in every way, she's funny, witty, charming, everything a romantic comedy lead needs to be. She commands the screen and isn't like other protagonists where you can't see the character getting from Point A to Point B. Condor exudes every thought and dream on her expressive face. She charms utterly from start to finish.
If ever there was an assisted living/senior home that looked like the one in P.S. I Still Love You, sign me up. That place is gorgeous. Yet, like the set of the Belleview home, there's a lot of stretching I have to do to believe all of this story. I'm still utterly charmed by most of it, but there's a lack of something in this narrative compared to the previous one. I still think you should take a look at it (if you haven't already, I was very late on this one!), especially if you've seen the first film and want more of those characters.