To All The Boys: Always And Forever Review: A Predictable But Charming Love Letter For Covinsky Fans, With Glitter On Top!
As many friends as I have who love rom-coms like I do, I also have those who never have a nice thing to say about them. In fact, just before I was settling down to watch To All The Boys: Always And Forever, one person told me it was too sappy, and another just couldn’t believe I was following up Nomadland with a teen rom-com. But for me, it was love at first watch with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. With Lara Jean Covey, Peter Kavinsky. Their friends, Kitty, and the Song Coveys. With LJ’s wardrobe. With “Whoa Whoa Whoa”. With the film’s music. And of course, with Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. And as Lara Jean points out, a meet-cute is how you know that a couple will end up together.
But was my meet with TATB 3 cute enough for me to sign away my love, always and forever? We shall see, won’t we? To All The Boys: Always And Forever is the third and final film in the To All The Boys franchise, which is adapted from Jenny Han’s book series of the same name. To All The Boys: PS I Love You director Michael Fimognari returns as both director and director of photography. But the screenplay this time is by Katie Lovejoy. Alongside its leads, the film also brings back Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, with Henry Thomas, Sarayu Blue and John Corbett.
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Plot: Can (LJ + PK) ÷ LDR = Always and forever?
To All The Boys: Always And Forever opens with the Covey girls on a Seoul trip with their father, Dr. Covey. and his neighbour-turned-girlfriend, Trina Rothschild. While there we get some sweet bonding moments amongst the girls and the fam, hint of a possible wedding in their future. And a nice hat tip to South Korea, with a Girls Generation song opening, touristy sights, Instagram-worthy cafés, and the girls shopping for K Beauty! We also find out that Peter has been accepted at Stanford on a lacrosse scholarship and he and Lara Jean both hope she gets in too, because long distance kinda sucks, right?
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a story if it were that easy. As Covinsky navigate the possibility of different colleges in the same state, a senior trip to New York has Lara Jean falling in love with the city and considering a different plan. Meanwhile, the Adler High Prom and her father’s wedding to Trina are just around the corner, so it’s not really the best time to get into a fight with your perfect boyfriend, is there?
We also see an escalation of certain existing themes. The Covey girls missing their mother and Peter Kavinsky’s relationship with his father get their moments. As for long distance relationships (LDR), it’s not just something that impacts Lara Jean and Peter, it also influences Margot’s relationship with her sisters, father and her soon-to-be step mother.
Also Read: Nomadland Review: Wanderlust And Homesickness Beautifully Coexist In Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-Deserving Film
To All The Boys: Always And Forever avoids the mistakes of its predecessor
One of the things I liked was that we didn’t get anymore frenemy tropes. They chose to preserve the ‘Jung’ between LJ and her former nemesis and Peter’s ex, Genevieve. Though I wouldn’t have minded seeing some more bonding between them, I thought it was nice that she didn’t suddenly become LJ’s BFF but they still found a way to be friends. What we shouldn’t gotten to see was how things were between Peter and Gen. In his own words, they have history, and were still friends. So if the misunderstanding between Gen and LJ was resolved, then what was the equation between Gen and Peter? Watching LJ be comfy with that would’ve been something, right?
I haven’t read the books by Jenny Han, but done some permissible cheating by reading their synopses online. And what I gathered was that the books, being books and not limited to a runtime, have much more plot points in all three titles. The films have usually avoided those, and the same holds true for TATB 3 as well. For example, in the books, LJ gets drunk at Trina’s bachelorette party and breaks up with Peter. However, in the film, things are a little different. Similarly, in the books, the Seoul trip happens after graduation, which is likely to impact Covinsky more than the way it happens in the movie, where the trip happens before all the drama.
I’m not sure how well that works out for this film though. On the one hand, there’s no drama with the characters doing stupid things like lying or misrepresenting the facts to each other. The way Lara Jean just up and tells Peter about her college rejection or decision to go to a different state school was devoid of any unnecessary drama or dilly-dallying. I take it as their relationship maturing, since before that, it was a bit messed up when Lara Jean was constantly worried over how to be a good girlfriend to Peter. And that, in turn, caused TATB 2 to have a lot more obstacles, which felt frivolous because you know Lara Jean and Peter are going to end up together. The very common ‘Prom’ trope is avoided too. There’s a prom, sure, but it is uneventful and thankfully lets those kids enjoy their night in peace. There’s no need Prom King and Queen hype, it’s treated as just another part of the night. That’s refreshing.
Another minor change from the book is that in the film, Peter never considers changing his college to be with Lara Jean. And since LJ too makes a very independent decision in the end, I love that they don’t make any ‘compromise’ but simply act like mature adults who know when to put themselves first.
On the other hand, the lack of any palpable stakes makes it look like we all made too much of a big deal about this perceived long distance relationship issue. Peter’s dad reaching out to him, and it is evident that this would eventually lead to some catharsis and help Peter overcome issues in his relationship with LJ. However, to me, it didn’t feel too convincing. Peter clearly has major anger towards his dad, and it is difficult to digest that just one meeting was enough for him to influence Peter’s thinking that way. Since this scene precedes the climax, it needed to be impactful enough that it drove Peter to do what he does. Lara Jean gets her ‘journey’ to realise that she wants NYU and it is okay to want that. But Peter doesn’t get that whole ‘journey’ of his character realising that he and LJ can make it work. And since that dilemma was so easily resolved, it makes revolving the whole film around it a bit too simple.
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To All The Boys: Always And Forever is definitely predictable but I didn’t care much when there’s Covinsky and fan service around every corner
Difference of opinion may persist about the second and third films, but can we all agree that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was charming AF? And by employing heavy fan service in both the sequels, the makers ensure that loyal fans are satisfied. Me, I am easily that loyal fan.
To All The Boys 3 has everything you could want from the final film in the beloved franchise: A nod to the Song Covey girls’ Koren roots. Lara Jean making references to classic 80s rom-coms and switching from bodice rippers to a much more grown up Jane Austen. Love letters. LJ’s imaginary conversations with Peter in her bedroom. The Diner where their love story began. Braid crowns. Kitty’s ‘Feminist’ necklace and her meddling matchmaker mischief. The teal hatbox. That phone wallpaper. Korean face masks. LJ’s baking. Chris’ obsession with Subway sandwiches. Heck, even Lauv’s ‘I Like Me Better When I’m With You’ gets a rehashed comeback during the senior trip, just like it played in the first movie during a similar ’trip’ scene. Oh, and there’s a return of ‘The contract’ too. No spoilers, but keep an eye out for author Jenny Han, whose cameo trajectory through all three films also gets a nice ending with this one!
Of course, people could find a way to complain about too many callbacks to the first two films. But I actually think fan service is what brings the charm to this otherwise simple story. Since we all know that Covinsky is going to be endgame no matter what, the little obstacles in their way can feel a bit trivial and easily resolved.
Which is why, if it weren’t for these little things carefully embedded in the story, the film would straight up be about high school sweethearts dealing with the ‘will they, won’t they’ threat of going to colleges on different coasts and being torn apart. And haven’t we seen enough of that trope already?
As always, the production design, costumes and music are the film’s biggest appeal!
The cast, now having done three films together, has great chemistry and camaraderie. If you follow them on Instagram, you know that most of the cast are friends IRL too. Their ease with each other actually reflects in their characters, and they make for very normal, convincing group of teenage friends.
Three things are my absolute favourite about the To All The Boys movies. First, its production design, which is oh so beautiful. I love the aesthetic of this franchise, everything from the colour palette, to the decor of the Covey house which looks like three women are living in it. Though I don’t know who keeps it that clean considering Margot isn’t around, Kitty is young, Lara Jean is messy AF and their father is a busy doctor! But you get my point, right?
The film gets a couple of chances to flex its art direction. There’s a rooftop party in NYC, the Adler High Prom, and the Covey-Rothschild wedding. And all three of them are made to look absolutely stunning! Director Michael Fimognari, who was the cinematographer on the first film before he stepped into the director’s chair, knows just how to make us fall in love with NYC, through Lara Jean’s eyes! I still think that nothing beats Lara Jean’s wardrobe from the first movie, but I dig some of her outfits in this one too (costume design by Lorraine Carson).
But we NEED to talk about the soundtrack! I believe that sci-fi fantasy shows and rom-coms are the best way to discover new music. And behold, To All The Boys: Always And Forever has introduced me to a new band from Kansas City called The Greeting Committee. Three of their songs have been used in the film. And while I like them all, ’Beginning Middle End’ has easily become a favourite! The track list also features some pop (Spice Girls, y’all!), and artists like Anna Of The North and Suzi Wu as well as Kpop bands like Girls Generation. All in all, it’s a pretty dope playlist that I’ll be listening to!
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Verdict: To All The Boys: Always And Forever is a love letter to the fans of the franchise, with glitter on top!
I am a self-confessed sucker for romances, so a rom-com will have to screw up really hard for me to not like it. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was quite a landmark film for several reasons, not limited to how it employed the same teen rom-com tropes but found a way to make them feel fresh and contemporary. And of course, the way it integrated Asian culture so prominently was something we’d never seen before. The film came at a time when the hype around K Dramas was growing at a fast pace. Lara Jean was a heroine that didn’t fit into any of the usual moulds we’d seen so far. She was beautiful, had impeccable fashion, and actively chose not to date for reasons that didn’t seem frivolous.
As for Peter K, he was not your usual good-looking jock/jerk who fell for the weird chick. He was a genuinely caring guy, and we’re constantly shown that through his interactions with LJ’s little sis, Kitty, and LJ herself. He was a rom-com hero but thanks to his traits and follies, he felt much more real a guy than any dreamboats we’ve seen so far.
TATB 3, to me, feels like a sweet end that ties up the story of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. It did me great fan service, and let me do what I came here to do: Have a good time fawning over perfect boyfriend Peter Kavinsky, relate majorly to Lara Jean Covey, and go “Awww” as they explored where their love took them next.
Did I expect to leave the film with any profound revelations about love or relationships, or have some mindblowing epiphany? Not at all. I knew just what to expect. And the predictability here isn’t a negative thing; instead, it’s kind of comforting. In a time when couple are breaking up under the strain of lockdown stifling and long distance relationships, I’ve consumed romances, teen and adult, with a kind of vengeance. My own love life is a sux, at least LJ + PK can be forever, right?
Since the film drops, as is tradition, in time for Valentine’s Day, I like to think of it as a love letter To All The Fans who stayed with the franchise, through its beginning, and middle, and end. Of course, with all the fan service sprinkled on like glitter on top, just the way Kitty likes it! And Kitty is the best cupid there is so, who am I to deny the love I feel for the film?
To All The Boys: Always And Forever will stream on Netflix from February 12, 2020.