This wouldn’t be an unusual assessment for most of the high school rom-coms Netflix dumps onto its platform, except that 2018′s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” set the expectations for its sequels sky-high. The film became a sensation, serving as a launchpad for stars Lana Condor and especially Noah Centineo, the heartthrob who earned comparisons to a young Mark Ruffalo.
Their chemistry remains intact with “To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” streaming Friday, the final film of the trilogy based on Jenny Han’s novels. The rest falls limp. Whereas the first movie freshened up genre tropes — the plot centered on bookworm Lara Jean Covey (Condor) pretending to date sensitive lax bro Peter Kavinsky (Centineo) for mutual gain — the third feels stale.
It picks up with the three Covey daughters honoring their late mother’s memory by visiting South Korea over spring break with their father (John Corbett) and his soon-to-be fiancee (Sarayu Blue), whose romance is one of few aspects from the second movie to remain relevant. Awaiting Lara Jean at home are the stresses of college acceptance season as well as her boyfriend, Peter, with whom she plans to attend Stanford. The catch, of course, is that she doesn’t actually get in — and while on a class trip across the country, she falls deeply in love with New York University instead.
Will their relationship survive the distance? Should they just break up now and get it over with? Both are real questions high-schoolers face at this point in their lives, but that doesn’t amount to engaging conflict here thanks to a dull screenplay. Though Condor and Centineo bring their best assets to the table — sincerity and charm, respectively — the film doesn’t give them much to do. (It does try to jam in a “Spectacular Now”-lite reconciliation story line between Peter and his father, which feels a bit out of the blue.)
The franchise traded hands after “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” with cinematographer Michael Fimognari grabbing the directing reins from Susan Johnson for the latter two films. The tonal shift is palpable, an upbeat rom-com swapped for movies going through the motions. “P.S. I Love You” and “Always and Forever” are perfectly inoffensive Netflix rom-coms — and yes, the opposite sort exists — but, unfortunately for fans who had high hopes for them, that’s all the films wind up being.