Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) are in love. No more fake relationship, no more contract. Love. It should be simple, right? But with the spectre of Peter’s ex girlfriend hovering over every feast and one of Lara Jean’s forgotten love letters coming back to haunt her, can this beloved romcom couple make it through high school?
One of the complaints most frequently hurled at romantic comedies as a genre is that they end prematurely.
Happily ever after isn’t the kiss at the altar, or on the doorstep in the rain, or at the top of the Empire State Building. Happily ever after is what happens when all of that is said and done, when the rice has been swept from the steps outside the church, the rain has stopped and you’re picking up loo paper and milk from the corner shop on your way home from work. One of the blind spots of romcoms is their resolute, determined indifference to everything beyond the sparkle and fizz of the meet cute. Gas bills? Broken fridges? Shrunken sweaters? Smear tests? Romcoms simply do not care.
Which is why, on the whole, there aren’t that many romantic comedy sequels. There is no Pretty Woman 2: The Rise Of Vivian, Notting Hill Returns or You’ve Got Mail Again. We will never know if Vivian and Ed made it in New York, or if ShopGirl managed to overcome the fact that she had been quietly catfished by the man who put her out of business. I like to think that they have, and she did, but the thing about romantic comedies is that they exist inside such a glorious bubble that any attempt to peer into the future immediately causes the bubble to burst.
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This is the predicament that Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) finds herself facing in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: PS I Still Love You, streaming on Netflix now. Here is a rare romantic comedy with a sequel, prayed and enthused into existence by a network of global fans who turned this tiny teen romcom into one of the streaming platform’s biggest hits of recent memory and one of its most popular original films.
That first film followed Lara Jean, a teen who writes secret love letters instead of telling her crushes how she really feels, dealing with the fallout of those letters becoming public. Suddenly, the boy she thinks she loves – her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard) – knows that she thinks she loves him.
In order to ingeniously sidestep that potential awkwardness, Lara Jean starts fake dating one of her middle school crushes, a boy by the name of Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). (Peter Kavinsky! You must always say his full name, because he exists with his full name only, like all high school crushes do.) But you know the plot of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, don’t you? Jean twirl, woah woah woah, Yakult drinks, hot tub splash, etc etc.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: PS I Still Love You – a missed opportunity to call it 2 All The Boys I’ve Loved Before if you ask me, but nobody appears to have – opens with Lara Jean and Peter in love. Navigating a real relationship, without the protection of a contract, is a whole new world for Lara Jean. And in that world are all the highs of love: fancy pasta dinners, Valentine’s Day presents, holding hands on the rollercoaster at the carnival. But the lows are there too. Peter’s dedication to competitive lacrosse often results in Lara Jean’s exclusion. Not to mention the fact that the spectre of Gen (Emilija Baranac), Peter’s first girlfriend, hovers over every feast, and every first.
How many pasta dinners did Peter take Gen to, Lara Jean wonders. How many carnivals and how many parties? How many novelty acapella greeting cards did Peter order for Gen? How many times did they, gulp, have sex? “Wow. He’s really good at this,” Lara Jean muses, when Peter kisses her outside her house. “How is he so good at this?”
Enter John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher). A former classmate of Lara Jean’s and her crush from Model UN, John Ambrose was one of the recipients of Lara Jean’s love letters. Unlike any of her crushes, Peter included, John Ambrose writes Lara Jean back.
And then he turns up in Lara Jean’s life, volunteering at the same retirement village that she volunteers at, playing the piano perfectly and smiling at her like a boy in love. (As an aside: part of the reason that there aren’t that many romcom sequels is that it’s extremely hard to recreate the cinematic sparkle of a meet-cute. John Ambrose’s arrival on the scene, involving a dangerous bowl of peanut M&Ms, is about the most romantic thing in the whole film. Sorry to this man Peter Kavinsky.)
PS I Still Love You is about what happens after the happily ever after as Lara Jean comes to terms with the reality of a relationship. Being with Peter doesn’t mean that his life is completely dedicated to her, and it doesn’t mean that she isn’t going to wonder what if when she meets another guy. Being in a relationship means that she’s going to be annoyed at Peter for taking the last slice of pizza without asking. Crucially, it also doesn’t mean that her heart is protected forever from being broken. It actually means the opposite – when Lara Jean discovers something serious about Peter and Gen’s relationship, she feels more betrayed than ever.
This is not how she feels around John Ambrose, hence her confusion. When Lara Jean is with Peter everything is technicolour, a cacophony of sound, an exquisite din. With John Ambrose, Lara Jean’s mind is silent.
She says as much to Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro), the recipient of one of her letters and her gay best friend. “We’re here and we’re sharing an ice cream sandwich and it’s great,” she explains. “But if Peter was here and we were sharing an ice cream sandwich, I’d be thinking about: has Peter shared an ice cream sandwich before? Was it with Gen? Does he think that I’m a prude if I just want to share an ice cream sandwich. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one who wants to share more than just an ice cream sandwich. So the answer to all of those question is… I don’t know.”
The reasons romantic comedies rarely have sequels is thus: after the happily ever after comes a whole lot of ‘I don’t knows’. PS I Still Love You is a savvy meditation on exactly that. Centineo, who was one of the breakout stars of the first film, adds necessary depth to Peter Kavinsky in this film, shading in some of the high school heartthrob’s deficiencies while reminding everyone why Peter Kavinsky is still the Platonic ideal of a first boyfriend. Direction from Michael Fimognari, who was the cinematographer on the first film and largely responsible for its rich, saturated aesthetic, is hopelessly romantic.
But it’s Condor who really brings everything together. This isn’t the Lara Jean of the first film, quiet and folded into herself. In PS I Still Love You, Lara Jean is in driver’s seat, trying to figure out how and what she is feeling. Condor’s performance is so convincing, her confusion and exhaustion so relatable. And her chemistry with Centineo, which was so much a part of that first film’s success, hasn’t dimmed one iota.
There’s a third To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before film coming next year. Which means even more Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky, even more questions and confusion and ‘I don’t knows’. But that’s what love is, right?
In the opening scene of PS I Still Love You, Lara Jean and Peter promise that they won’t break each other’s hearts. But, as they both learn over the course of the film, that’s not the kind of promise you can make when you fall in love. Real love, as PS I Still Love You tries to show, isn’t about a happily ever after. It’s about what comes next: all the frustrating, confusing, ordinary and extraordinary stuff of life. Maybe they really should make more romantic comedy sequels, especially when they’re as good as this.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: PS I Still Love You streams on Netflix from 12 February.
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.
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