To All the Boys Always and Forever

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: To All the Boys: Always and Forever

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: In the third and final entry in the teen-centric To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before rom-com trilogy, Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky’s relationship is tested when they discover that they’ll be attending different colleges, which throws a wrench into their long-term plans.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: After a hugely disappointing second installment, this wholesome franchise rebounds in a big way with this delightful (if predictable) entry, which includes picturesque jaunts to Seoul and New York City and all of the rom-com tropes that you’d expect.

Spoilers ahead.

Last year’s To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You introduced a rival love interest for Lara Jean (Lana Condor), but the inevitability of her choosing Peter (Noah Centineo) sort of made the movie feel like it was spinning its wheels. With that out of the way, Always and Forever feels like the story is back on track and can actually explore the evolving nature of that central relationship – and specifically, how it is threatened during their senior year of high school when the two get into different universities. Peter gets a lacrosse scholarship at Stanford, while Lara Jean is struggling with whether to go to Berkeley, which is an hour away from him, or to NYU, which is 3,000 miles away.

While the drama of the first two movies felt a little manufactured, this one feels less like it’s running through the motions of a rom-com concept and more like the exploration of a more grounded and relatable decision-making process that many high schoolers are faced with. That grounding adds some emotional weight to the proceedings, and Condor, who often just charmingly vacillates between plucky and insecure, is able to work through a bit more complexity here, especially in one heartbreaking moment in which a variety of emotions silently race across her face.

There’s an interesting contrast in the film, too: Lara Jean has never felt more human than in this movie, but the film itself knows it can’t be a completely grounded drama – it still needs to scratch an itch for its rom-com-loving viewers. That explains its flawless, cinematic, picture-perfect vision of New York City, the kind of depiction that’s only seen in the movies. While on a senior trip to Manhattan from their home in Portland, Oregon (side note: did other people have senior trips as glamorous as this? Because I definitely did not), Lara Jean falls head over heels in love with NYC, hitting every major tourist attraction, attending a chic rooftop party, and inexplicably loading a pink couch onto the subway with friends (seemingly the film’s way of adding to the city’s unique mystique).

To All the Boys: Always and Forever eventually turns into a more mature type of love story: one in which devotion to one’s significant other at the expense of all else is traded for self-love and self-determination. That idealized love story between Lara Jean and Peter moves into a supporting role in LJ’s life, and her larger self-interest – which we’ve barely gotten a glimpse of over the past three films – finally takes over as the primary driver of her decisions. It’s a satisfying arc and a sweet conclusion to a hit-and-miss trilogy, but hey, when it comes to the overall success of a film franchise, two out of three ain’t bad.

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