“Seriously, Lara Jean?” Kitty says. “Now is not the time to be fantasizing about living in an ’80s movie."
These words from young Kitty, who has consistently proved to be the wisest character in this series, rise above their intended meaning: Now is also not the time for a film that fantasizes about being from the ’80s, relying on tired tropes of the genre. As a follow-up to what probably ranks among Netflix’s most successful romantic comedies to date — the company is notoriously stingy with statistics — “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” based on the second book in Jenny Han’s trilogy, had a high bar to clear. It barely comes close to meeting it.
That’s not to say the original film skirted rom-com traditions. “To All the Boys” is, at its core, the story of a bookish girl and a pretty-boy jock who embark on a mutually beneficial “fake relationship” but who wind up falling for each other instead. Lara Jean (Lana Condor) aims to convince her longtime neighbor that she is no longer in love with him and Peter (Noah Centineo) tries to make his ex jealous, forming two love triangles — a square, perhaps? — recalling those of teen comedies past.
But “To All the Boys” manages to subvert those traditions by giving its characters depth. Lara Jean stands up for herself when the moment calls for it, unafraid to point out when people treat her poorly. Peter isn’t actually the lacrosse bro he seems to be, exhibiting a gentle playfulness that made viewers across the country swoon over him (and, for a moment there, over the actor portraying him).
“P.S. I Still Love You,” on the other hand, sticks to a traditional love triangle by introducing Lara Jean and Peter’s former classmate, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), who received one of Lara Jean’s childhood love letters that Kitty mailed out in the first movie. Fisher does what he can with John Ambrose, but, aside from a charming scene where he reveals he goes by two names because of Lara Jean, the character is never granted enough complexity to avoid being a flat “good guy” foil for Peter.
“To All the Boys” spent its full runtime investing viewers in a relationship that “P.S. I Still Love You” begins to doubt almost immediately, via John Ambrose’s introduction and Lara Jean’s insecurities about Peter. The sequel, directed by Michael Fimognari, sets out to explore what happens after a big movie kiss, but actually reveals that Lara Jean isn’t ready for what comes next. As even the opening scene suggests, she seems less concerned with actually dating Peter than she is with, as she says to Kitty, looking “like someone that has a boyfriend.”
When Peter arrives at the retirement home where Lara Jean is volunteering to win her back at the end of the film, recalling that she hates driving in the snow, it’s evident that he loves her. But it remains unclear whether Lara Jean truly loves Peter, or whether she’s just in love with the idea of him. This mismatched love might be realistic of teen romance, but a final act underscoring the characters’s naivete feels odd given how sweet and insightful the original “To All the Boys” film turned out to be.
We can only hope that Kitty returns with some sage advice in the next one.