In all the carping there’s been about the state of the romantic comedy over the past few years, and there’s been a lot, I don’t think anyone has argued that what the genre really needs is sequels. Hollywood is more than happy to greenlight any number of gender-swapped rom-com reboots, but you’ve almost got to applaud the collective restraint that has prevented When Harry Met Sally 2 from existing. By some miracle, everyone has gotten together and agreed: To watch a couple fall in love in a romantic comedy is sublime, but when the couple in question gets together, the story is, for all intents and purposes, over.
All of this is to say that To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the new sequel to 2018’s cotton-candy confection of a teen rom-com, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, had its work cut out for it. I do naturally worry about the wider implications of this obsession with falling in love over being in love—for humanity, for monogamy. I’m concerned we’re all a bunch of Don Drapers who “only like the beginning of things,” doomed to forever seek out the new over the familiar. But I also think that if Nancy Meyers is not sitting around trying to write sequels to her rom-coms—maybe Diane Keaton came to her senses about Keanu after all?—that’s probably because it might not be worth doing.
So I’m sorry but not exactly surprised to report that 2 All the Boys has not cracked the code to making a good romantic comedy sequel—and I’m speaking as someone who felt exhilarated by the first To All the Boys movie. As much as I loved watching Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky fall for each other a year and a half ago, as much as I believed in their improbable love (barf, but true), and as glad as I was to see them again this time around, in this new movie it feels like something is missing. P.S. I … don’t know if I’m still into this?
The first To All the Boys introduced us to Lara Jean Covey—half-Korean, half-white high school student, sister, daughter, enthusiast of preppy style, and romantic naïf. The casting of an Asian American lead (Lana Condor) was rightfully celebrated, and Lara Jean just seemed like a triumph of character specificity, a fully realized person whom we hadn’t seen in one of these movies before, helpfully matched with Noah Centineo as Peter, an actor cute enough to lead to weeks, nay, months of social media swooning. That movie kicked off from the concept that whenever Lara Jean really likes a boy, she writes a long letter to him, just to get her feelings out, not to actually send—or so she says. This goes swimmingly, and boyfriendlessly, until we meet her at the beginning of her junior year, and five of her soul-bearing letters have somehow landed in the hands of the five boys to whom they were addressed. In order to convince her current (forbidden) crush, Josh, that she isn’t interested in him, Lara Jean starts a fake romance with a different letter recipient (and former seventh grade crush), Peter, and then that fake relationship becomes a real one, yada yada yada, they loved, they lost, they reunited, we Googled Yakult.
The new movie proceeds from a detail revealed at the very end of the first movie. You’ll recall that there were five love letters at the beginning of all this: In addition to the ones Peter and Josh received, another was addressed to a classmate of Lara Jean’s who turns out to be gay, and another was returned to sender after being sent to summer camp. The fifth letter, though, went to someone named John Ambrose McClaren, whom Lara Jean apparently knew from Model U.N., and at the very end of To All the Boys, he shows up at her door as a teaser. (In the new movie, the role has been recast with Grease Live! and Rent: Live veteran Jordan Fisher, who is black—the previous actor in the role was white—a decision that seems intended to respond to criticism the first movie received that its male love interests were all white. TAtB: P.S. I Still Love You also adds an Asian American male love interest, 13 Reasons Why’s Ross Butler, for one of Lara Jean’s female friends.)
In P.S. I Still Love You, it’s the spring semester of junior year, and Peter and Lara Jean are officially a couple, doing couple things like going on their first real date and celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together, while she tries to deal with her insecurities about Peter being more romantically experienced than her. Then John Ambrose enters the picture, first in letter form: He responds to Lara Jean’s love note, hugely flattered, but before she can figure out what to write back to him, he also shows up in the flesh, as a fellow volunteer at the luxury retirement community for senior citizens where Lara Jean is working, a ridiculous place that only exists so that the movie can employ Holland Taylor as a wisecracking elder, which, fair. (Thanks for this pander, Netflix.) There’s also a subplot where, fresh off the success of puppet-mastering the beginning of Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship, Lara Jean’s younger sister Kitty decides that Lara Jean’s dad, a widower played by John Corbett, needs a little romance of his own. Since he’s the actor best known for playing one of Carrie’s flames on Sex and the City, why yes, we’ll allow it.
Like its predecessor, P.S. I Still Love You looks the part: The charming production design this time has Lara Jean’s school covered with streamers for Valentine’s Day and a student a cappella group that sings Billie Eilish songs in the cafeteria, plus picture-perfect lantern dates and treehouse hangouts. Condor and Centineo are as winsome as ever, and no one will complain about the addition of Jordan Fisher. But where the first one had a clever, if convoluted, premise in the love letters, which led into the deployment of that most delightful of teen movie tropes, the fake relationship, this one lacks any such (ingenious) gimmick. Now Peter and LJ are together, and also, there’s a new guy. Yawn, right? The movie may work for the series’ army of young fans who just want more Lara Jean and Peter, but it’s considerably less diverting—if the first one felt like an epic, to the extent that any high school movie can, this one feels episodic and uninspired. And I’m sorry, but going from five competing love letter recipients (a love sextet) to mere love triangle is a downgrade.
The events of the new movie also at times revise and devalue the charms of the first. To be a viable love interest to rival the great Peter, John McClaren is written as such a great foil that he makes you question whether Lara Jean and Peter ever had anything in common to begin with. With a similar put-together style and wise-beyond-his-years air, John seems like such a great match for Lara Jean that Peter sometimes reads as less dreamily unlikely beau than guy who kind of just seems wrong for her. For example, Lara Jean and John Ambrose are both fuddy-duddies who like hanging out with old people and calling out bingo numbers, whereas Peter likes to do normal high school boy stuff like play sports and flip-cup. (In real life, relationships where the couple has different interests are hardly hopeless; movie logic is less expansive.)
This is all fine, but: I just watched Lara Jean fall in love with Peter. I believe with all my heart that their love is real—I’m speaking with romantic-comedy brain here, please go with it—and I kind of don’t want to watch her flirt with another guy, nor do I ever really buy that the movie will veer away from what pretty clearly has been written as an OTP. This problem is inescapable: Any true rom-com lover by definition could object to this movie’s existence, which breaks the sacred covenant of the rom-com. The troubles in 2 All the Boys feel obligatory, and they pop the original movie’s bubblegum gloss on the high school romance, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. Even worse, the movie suffers from being the middle of a planned trilogy—a setup that works better in Jenny Han’s YA source material than it does for a series of movies—so it’s not allowed to wrap up the story and therefore has to just kind of a vamp along for an hour and 40 minutes. It’s just a deeply misguided mode of franchise-building.
Still, are there pleasures in 2 All the Boys? For the fans? There are. Most of them are Lana Condor’s outfits. It makes zero sense that she ends up wearing a prom dress in the movie’s climax, which takes place at a party at the retirement center, but on some deeper level, this movie knows exactly what its audience wants to see: Lana Condor looking adorable in a prom dress. At least Netflix nailed that part.