To All the Boys: Always and Forever

Diminishing returns have set in for this trilogy, but To All the Boys: Always and Forever has just enough of the original’s effervescent charm to serve as a worthy conclusion. When the first To All the Boys movie came out in 2018, it was an unexpected success, a dark horse that became one of the most-watched and re-watched original movies on Netflix and single-handedly made teen icons out of both Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. It could afford to be low-stakes and surprising because few critics were expecting much from it. But the next two movies had high expectations to live up to. 

The most recent and final movie, To All the Boys: Always and Forever represents the senior year of high school and takes center stage as Lara Jean returns from a family trip to Korea and considers her college plans — with and without Peter. Continuing the main actors/actresses that still include Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Madeleine Arthur, Lisa Durupt, and Saraya Blue. 

Was it the colors? All three To All the Boys movies are rendered in shades of turquoise, yellow, and pink. But there was slight bleaching to certain scenes in that first movie, an occasional willingness to let the light be distorting when it felt right so that when it went sun-drenched and romantic, the romance really landed. That willingness has completely vanished from the other two movies — and with it has gone any sense that these films might ever be willing to get really sad, or that their characters might ever experience anything other than temporary distress. This means the happiness that they do inevitably encounter became a little bit cheap. 

Or maybe the costumes? In the first film, Lana Condor was dressed by Rafaella Rabinovich. Then, Lara Jean displayed a tendency to mix sweet and girly frills with a little punk drama: she was always wearing combat boots with her pink miniskirts, or pairing her bows with a sharp-edged neon plaid. But in the 2020s To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, and in the latest outing, Always and Forever (both directed by Michael Fimognari), Lara Jean is dressed by Lorraine Carson in a softly romantic mod wardrobe without a trace of punk to it. Lara Jean looks great in all three films. But the girly girl/cool chick combo of the first movie didn’t just look great. It also doubled as character development. It suggested that nice girl Lara Jean had a few hidden sharp edges herself and that there was some secret potential inside of her that, if given the right encouragement, might finally emerge. With the wardrobe of the second and third films, that layer of character work is gone. There’s no longer any suggestion of mystery in the way Lara Jean is presented to us.

To All the Boys: Always and Forever is a perfectly fine, competent, and forgettable teen romance. It’s a better movie than 2020’s P.S. I Still Love You, largely because its central conflict is stronger than that film’s love triangle. But it doesn’t come anywhere close to the heights of the original To All the Boys. So as this sweet-natured high school romance comes to a close, it’s not getting the happy ending it deserves and a rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. Instead, the To All the Boys series fades out on what feels all too much like a case of diminishing returns. Click here to see the movie trailer.

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