Whether you care to admit or not, we’re all somewhat molded by our angst-ridden high school days. Films based on that period tend to catch a bad rep. Viewed as being either juvenile, vapid or deeply melodramatic. Okay, most of them are, but there are the rare exceptions to the rule. The heightened reality of the genre allows for outrageous comedies via “Superbad” or “Booksmart”. There’s even a handful that become high art, looking at you, “Dazed and Confused”. Then there’s Netflix’s “To All The Boys” film series that simultaneously affirms everything we loathe about the genre with just enough charm to keep us on the fence.
We’ve followed Lara Jean’s journey from emotionally constipated single to insecure lover in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You”. Throughout each instalment, we never quite knew how to feel about the film series. Reserving our judgment until we see Lara Jean’s character arc fully developed. Alas, it comes to this. The final instalment of the trilogy, “To All The Boys: Always and Forever”. Or as we prefer to call it “To All The Boys: Montage Edition”.
After taking a long break with her family in Korea, Lara Jean is about to embark on one of the most important journeys of her entire life. She’s about to graduate high school and is heading for college. More than anything, she wishes to join her lover, Peter in Stanford University. Predictably, things don’t go her way. During a trip to New York, she begins to envision a future for herself in New York University (NYU). A place she feels she can grow and flourish…but will she grow apart from Peter as well? Could this crossroad tear our two lovers apart? It’s time to see if Lara’s love for Peter truly is forever.
Look, we’re not even going to try to keep up the pretense. Any moron well acquainted with Netflix’s “Kissing Booth” films can guess the plot beats a mile away. The problem with the film isn’t its predictability. We’ve made peace with the fact that this trilogy isn’t trying to change the game. No, we take umbrage with the film’s plot being so damn thin! In the first two films, the conflict can be traced to the classic love triangle formula, and it works for the most part. “Always and Forever” doesn’t have a cliche plot because there is no goddamn plot! It’s basically Lara traveling around to different locations before having obligatory plot dialogue. There’s no real conflict, tension or build-up.
Oh and the montages…why are there so many montages?! The worst part is that they’re the best parts of the film. They have more personality and fun than any of the characters in the film. Beyond the drama of Lara’s college decision, there’s a half-assed subplot about Peter’s father trying to reconnect with him. That could have been interesting but no, that leads to nowhere. Lara’s younger sister has a long distance relationship with a Korean boy which, you guessed it, leads to nothing. It’s baffling why the film would try to introduce all these new subplots only to never resolve them. This proves doubly problematic when you consider that this is supposed to be the finale.
Not even Lana Condor’s performance could save this script. Condor does bring a certain bubbly charm to the character of Lara. At this point, we couldn’t picture the franchise without her or the hunky Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky. In the past, we saw Lara overcome her fears and insecurities in her relationship with Peter. The majority of the films is dedicated to Lara’s romantic and personal growth. So to have Lara consider whether she’s outgrown Peter as her rock makes thematic sense.
There’s a lot of potential for a compelling narrative there. Which is why it’s such a shame that the film never bothers to flesh out her motivations or desires. It’s too busy cramming in lesser subplots and montages to create actual stakes. What should be a major inner battle turns into a minor inconvenience.
Noah Centineo plays basically the same character in every high school film. He’s the nice guy jock looking for true love, and he does it well. In a sense, he’s the source of conflict in the film. The plot tries to tie his attachment to Lara with his abandonment issues stemming from his father to create more depth for the character. Ultimately, they never really follow up on it. We would have loved to see some growth for our boy Peter as well.
In spite of the plot conspiring to ruin this film, we can’t deny that Centineo and Condor have excellent on-screen chemistry. From their cutesy banter to their sickeningly sweet couple bits, they have endeared themselves to us. After two films of seeing them trying to make it work, you can’t help but feel attached to the duo.
If anything good has come from this paper-thin dumpster fire of a film, the audience is left with a sense of continuity. That their stories will continue on beyond this final chapter. Beyond the couple, the supporting cast leave much to be desired. They either exist to provide sage advice or egg Lara in choosing a side. Not even her sister Kitty, who is the catalyst of this entire trilogy, gets any meaningful development.
“To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is a meandering chore for newcomers and a giant slap to the face for fans. A pathetic finale with no real emotional stakes and no meaningful character growth. The only consolation is that we get to imagine better stories for Lara and Peter when all is said and done.
Needless to say, we were utterly disappointed with the film. “Always and Forever” could have been a fun, cheesy send-off about how love should never come at the cost of your own personal flourishing. Instead, it’s as paper thin as the letters Lara wrote on. You can now catch “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” on Netflix today.
So how did you feel about the finale to Netflix’s “To All the Boys” trilogy? Were you as disappointed as we were? What’s your favourite moment from the franchise? Be sure to let us know in the comments down below!
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