4YE Reviews: To All the Boys: Always and Forever Feels Inauthentic

Credit: Netflix

I wanted to like To All the Boys: Always and Forever, the third installment of the highly popular Netflix rom-com. I longed for a return to the effervescent bubble gum pink saccharine of the first film To All the Boys I Loved Before, a film that was said to revitalize the waning romantic comedy genre. I even longed for a return to the second film, a film that I didn’t particularly like, but one that made me hopeful for Lara Jean’s character and future only for it to be dashed to pieces when she chose Peter Kavinsky over John Ambrose McClaren. To All the Boys: Always and Forever is overstuffed with content. It was one of those YA adaptations that should’ve had two movies ala the final installment of Harry Potter but it, sadly, didn’t,  leaving things to feel like snapshots of Lara Jean’s senior year instead of a cohesive end to her story.

Always and Forever picks up during spring break of senior year. The Song-Coveys are in Korea in order to connect with their heritage and their deceased mother. It’s a heartwarming exploration that doesn’t last long enough to make an impact. Lara Jean makes a mention of being a second-generation Korean-American in a rather poignant statement, but it’s lost to Lara Jean’s pining over Peter.

After Korea, in which Kitty meets a boy and gets a boyfriend, it’s back to school for Lara Jean. She and Peter have the perfect after high school plan. They’re both going to go to Stanford and never have to say goodbye to each other. It would be cute if Peter wasn’t such a horrible boyfriend who makes everything about himself. He’s okay at first. He’s even okay when she lets him know that she didn’t get into Stanford, but on the senior trip to New York, Lara Jean falls in love with NYU and New York City and immediately begins second-guessing all her plans. When she finally tells Peter she wants to go to NYU, he starts ragging on her and being selfish. Then, on prom night, LJ and Peter have a wonderful night. However, when LJ sneaks Peter up into her room to have sex, Peter denies her and guilts her for putting so much space between them. She tries to reassure him that she loves him and still wants to be with him, but he says, “Not enough, apparently” and then storms out.

Of course, they break up. Of course, this heartbreak lasts for a little while. It wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if they didn’t. During this time, Dr. Covey and his next-door neighbor Trina get married. It’s a cute ceremony and they make an adorable couple. Later that same evening, Peter and LJ makeup. By the end of the film, Lara Jean ends up at NYU and, seemingly, she and Peter are destined to be together forever.

But I can’t help thinking that most of the heartache LJ goes through wouldn’t have happened had she chose John Ambrose in the second film. Who knows, maybe I’m biased because I find Peter to be a flaming barrel of trash who wants nothing more than to keep Lara Jean from realizing her full potential. He’s done this from the very beginning. He is a detriment to her character and for someone as important as Lara Jean is to rom-com canon as well as second-generation Asian-Americans, it feels rather regressive to saddle her with a white boyfriend who holds her back.

Granted, a lot of this has to do with the writing. No offense to Jenny Han and Katie Lovejoy, but Always and Forever really suffers from the poor choices made in P.S. I Still Love You. This was one of those moments where movie chemistry should’ve outweighed written canon. (Kind of like Harry Potter, but we’re not going to go there.) So, of course, all of Lovejoy and Han’s writing is held back and it doesn’t reach its full potential. Kind of like Lara Jean, though she does overcome that by the end. Homegirl even has a fresh off to college hair cut. Slay, Queen.

But I digress. The fact that Han and Lovejoy try to shove so much stuff into this final installment also makes it difficult to enjoy. There’s a trip to New York, a trip to Korea, prom, Dr. Covey’s wedding, and all throughout, each little trip feels not only disjointed but like there isn’t anything to connect them. In a movie franchise that started with having a lot to say and a lot to add to the rom-com genre, Always and Forever feels like it’s run out of things to say. It also feels inauthentic, but, then again, Dr. Covey is a doctor so maybe it’s not too much of a stretch for all these trips to happen pretty much all at the same time. And, it probably feels inauthentic because LJ isn’t allowed to grow because she’s being saddled by so many poor choices for the sake of the plot.

I have to give Lana Condor kudos, though. Despite the poor narrative and character choices, Condor is a breath of fresh air as Lara Jean. She always has been and this is no exception. She takes the content and acts it with every fiber of her being, which makes LJ feel more like a living person rather than a fictional character, and that’s what acting is supposed to do. Plus, even in this disjointed mess of a movie, she creates a character worth rooting for, even if the writing makes that a little debatable sometimes. In a lot of ways, I found her relatable, like she could have been my best friend in school. I don’t know. I just love Lara Jean but I’m saddened by the choices Lovejoy and Han created for her.

I wish I could like Always and Forever. I really wish I could, I just feel like all of this could have been prevented if LJ had chosen John Ambrose because you guys know he would’ve supported her wholeheartedly and they would’ve went to NYU together and been amazing and conquered the world. But alas.

Shelby Arnold
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