I am not going to lie, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is my happy movie. I mean, it’s got everything- they pretend to be in a relationship! A male love interest with a snappy name! The angst makes me want to tear my hair out with joy. That’s a bit extreme. Either way! The sequel, To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, came out on the 12th, and what better way to celebrate the season of love with a double feature review?
The series centers around the character of Lara Jean, a high school junior who is in love with the idea of love. We know this because one of the many oddball things she does to express such is her collection of love letters to the boys she’s loved before. One day, these letters get sent out, and that’s when things get interesting. In the first movie, she deals with the repercussions of these letters, and also embarks on a fake relationship with a dude named Peter Kavinsky (what a name!) and then through a series of events, they actually start dating. But that’s when the sequel comes into play! Lara Jean discovers love in real life isn’t the same when you daydream about it, and as such, love with Peter Kavinsky was not what it was all cracked out to be. Meanwhile, a second boy, John Ambrose McClaren (what a name x2!), also got a letter, and he’s also in love with Lara Jean. Romantic hijinks ensue!
The two standouts of the series are Lana Condor as Lara Jean and (surprisingly) Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky. They took the archetypes they were given and sprinted with it, going above and beyond. Condor's portrayal of Lara Jean is uncanny to the book- terrified of confrontation, smart, and slightly strange. Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky (because he has the kind of name you have to say all at once) is convincing and easy to fall for, which was the goal all along. Noah Centineo also has the name you have to say all at once, and I don’t know who said so, but apparently he’s the internet’s boyfriend? It’s like he was concocted in a lab somewhere far away just to play this guy, because holy shit, he’s weird.
Aesthetically, these movies are it. The set design? The costumes? The music? UGH. Amazing. Honest to god knock me out. I love the camera work, and the gentle voiceover throughout both movies. It’s such a quiet and tender series, and it’s refreshing to have one aimed at teens that isn’t in your face with jokes and gags. But that just makes it all the more weird and uncomfortable when they do try and get in your face with a joke and a gag. (I’m looking at you King Bach. Also, who the fuck let King Bach into this movie anyways?)
As much as I love the soundtrack, it seems sometimes that the production tailors scenes specifically around the songs, to exemplify how cool and edgy the songs could be, and it doesn't really work to its advantage. The movies are also melodramatic, often more so than they need to be, and in the weirdest spots too. It’s like I just want to shake everybody’s shoulders at once and scream ‘oh my GOD shut UP’ but not in a good way. It’s fine though! They’re only but 22 year old high schoolers who need to learn proper communication! At these moments, it feels like everything is happening at once, and it's almost like it can't decide what it wants to be, though at the end, it decides to marry all of those qualities: it's a modern homage to the John Hughes teenage romance romp (they even give Sixteen Candles a shout out at one point). It's loud and proud about its vulnerability and quaintness, though sometimes it does trip over itself and fall on its face in its loudness. It's not all about being the coolest, or the edgiest, though sometimes it does wish to be the coolest and the edgiest. Is it a bit on the nose at times? Yes. But that's what's so great about these movies: they commit. At no point does it pretend to be some grand gesture of folly or starting a movement- no, this is a teenage chick flick for the girls too quiet to speak up during trig. The movies aren't perfect. The script is a bit wonky, and the mean girl makes you want to bash your head against the nearest door (she makes fun of clothes that are in NO WAY ugly). They also fall victim to the whole 'Mom died before the movie started and now we have to refer to her in the third person’ trope. There are some continuity errors and the dialogue is really weird at times, but these are teen movies after all, and there is nothing extraordinary about that. But what is extraordinary is how it paints teenage girls not as pitchy caricatures, but as creatures that are going through a really strange period of time in even stranger circumstances. Of course it’s going to be awkward at times.
TATBILB is a celebration of vulnerability, teenagehood, and romance. Lara Jean is hopelessly in love, and knows it. I love that. It reminds me of the times in high school where I too was crushing hopelessly on those around me, too caught up in my own head to see what was actually occurring around me. And like Lara Jean, the idea of love and romance is far more satisfactory than the real thing. It's never going to be done right, so why not just stay inside your head instead? But that’s not reality, and it’s not the same either. The first movie deals with the action of reality crashing into your daydreams, while the sequel wants that daydream to be the reality. But if there is anything we’ve taken away from these movies, is that that is impossible. Something’s gotta give (though not your sense of self) in order to live that big showy romance you keep daydreaming of. It also says that despite the terror of it all, big showy romances are worth having IRL. Bridging that gap is scary, and finding that person to bridge that gap is even scarier, but it's all worth it in the end. And also, this is a chick flick for teens. Don't put too much stock into it (even though i'm telling you otherwise). The series also asks the question- is it worth it? After watching both (and praying for the third one to come quickly), it says that yes. Love is worth it.
Image Courtesy of Netlix