'To All The Boys: Always and Forever' is a refreshing take on an overcrowded genre


By Jack MacDonald, MA, Film & Television

This is the third and final production in a series of teen rom-com films taken from the popular series of books by author Jenny Han, and starring Lana Condor. The film depicts Lara Jean (Condor), a shy, introverted teenager, as she finds her way through high school and the awkward subject of boys. Though it has its issues, the third instalment is a welcome addition to the overcrowded teen-romance genre.

The first entry in the series: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), raked in high viewership numbers and achieved critical acclaim on its Netflix release. The story centred around Lara Jean, who after her eldest sister Margot (Janel Parrish) flies the coop to study in Scotland, returns reluctantly to high school, and has to contend with former friend and now rival Gen (Emilija Baranac), with Gen’s unfortunate boyfriend Peter (Noah Centineo) caught in the middle.

Having kept a collection of love letters to various boys during her childhood, they get accidentally mailed out to each of them, including Peter. After receiving his letter and subsequently breaking up with Gen, Peter forms a contract with Lara Jean to be his pretend girlfriend intent on creating jealousy.

Janel Parrish, Lana Condor, and Anna Cathcart in To All the Boys: Always and Forever (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

The story then unwinds into a will they/won’t they premise as they come to recognise a mutual love for each other whilst high school life spirals around them in increasingly dramatic fashion. Its sequel: To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020), follows a predictable beat, as Lara Jean and Peter are now officially a couple. Further consequences of the inadvertent letter distribution, in the form of another former friend are explored. The friend joins Lara Jean at her volunteering program and tests the boundaries of Lara and Peter’s relationship. This feels rather familiar but allows the characters to spark with continuing chemistry.

The films know their place within the teen romance genre, and uphold their roots

Now arriving with To All The Boys: Always And Forever, the couple are now looking at futures in university. Both are set on going to Stanford University, but Lara Jean faces the ultimate problem: she does not get in. They set on a compromise of Lara Jean attending Berkeley University for a year to support their hard fought-for relationship.

However, Lara Jean then changes tack and, after having explored NYU with her friends on a field trip, begins to fall for the program and yearns to go there, yet again testing both the strength as a couple, and also the bonds of her family.

Janel Parrish, Lana Condor, and Anna Cathcart in To All the Boys: Always and Forever (2021) | IMDb

The series resonated in an otherwise crowded genre of films. Certainly, its references to 80s teen classics as Sixteen Candles (1984) and Say Anything… (1989) notwithstanding, the films know their place within the genre and uphold their roots. The film features a brilliant pair of leads, placed firmly at the centre of the series which are not only charming, but get to the heart and the pitfalls of modern, young romance effortlessly reflecting the key elements which made the novels such a hit. The popularity of the franchise suggests that an audience has enjoyed following the characters’ journey over time, made all the more believable by their heartfelt approach. Though not without flaws in this entry.

The cast work well against a script which is at times creates conflict and resolves them fairly quickly to further the plot. There is also a subplot involving Lara Jean’s father Dr. Covey (John Corbett) preparing to get married, which is well-handled but does take a step back to the core storyline, and which comes and goes, lacking resonance.

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Most importantly this sequel, lacks largely the absurdist and comically led premise that the first film – and the second film to an extent – highlighted. Moving instead to a traditional plot of torn lovers with concerns of the future. But it makes up for it with an endearing cast and a sense of affection toward its characters.

The loyal fans will appreciate the film taking on board a mature and nuanced approach to their future and connection with her family, and the newcomers will be engaged by the energy that the performances give and a sense of comical joy. It may not have the first film’s subversive surprises, but it does deliver plenty of heart and soul to justify its existence.

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