To All the Boys: Always and Forever is a surprising test for all us cynics out there. The finale to Netflix’s charming teen rom-com trilogy stays on brand, aspiring to be more sweet than bitter with an ending that challenges our perceptions and doubts about the endurance of young love.
Spoiler warning: This review mentions key plot points from the film.
Always and Forever finds Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) firmly committed and comfortable in their relationship. The high school seniors are planning a future together at Stanford, which admitted Peter on a lacrosse scholarship. Lara Jean’s daydreams unfold onscreen in a montage of the couple sharing a home, getting married, and hitting those career milestones. A rejection letter from Stanford quickly dashes those dreams, forcing her to reevaluate her future.
This is the core of what Always and Forever is about—Lara Jean’s journey to figuring out that what she wants isn’t necessarily what Peter does. It’s primed, relatable material to dig into as many teenagers grapple with decisions like Lara Jean’s. However, these feelings aren’t given room to breathe. Many major events take place throughout the film: the opening family trip to Seoul, a school trip to New York City, prom, and then finally Lara Jean’s dad’s wedding. In all that clutter, much of what I loved about the series, such as the way it keenly conveyed the heightened emotions of first love, takes a back seat.
That’s not to say that fans of the series aren’t treated to a number of endearing moments; although, the most striking scenes were the ones between the Covey sisters or Lara Jean’s magical night in New York that makes her fall in love with the city. The latter edged on cliche, especially as she and Chris (Madeleine Arthur) party with a group of NYU college students and end the night stealing a pink couch and taking it on the subway. But the energy and excitement of that scene is one of the most joyous moments in the series. There’s no doubt that NYU is where Lara Jean belongs, and her subsequent hesitation to enroll there instead of Berkeley is frustrating. It doesn’t help that Peter is never asked to compromise his plans of going to Stanford.
At this point, the story builds towards a breakup, which is inevitable based on all the stories we’ve read, movies and TV shows watched, and maybe even our personal experiences. After all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before started with Lara Jean’s sister, Margot (Janel Parrish), breaking up with her boyfriend before leaving for college. It was that breakup that ironically brought Lara Jean and Peter together. As heartbreaking as it may be, Lara Jean putting herself before her relationship is the right ending.
The actual ending eschews the heartbreak, doesn’t compromise Lara Jean’s and Peter’s respective futures, and, in doing so, defies expectations. The lack of cynicism and full embrace of hope and love is a reminder of why this series is so adored in the first place. The ending isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s a little too rushed in its attempts to tie loose ends. Whether or not Always and Forever succeeds in surprising and moving its audience is questionable, and yet, I can’t help but admire it for trying.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever is now streaming on Netflix.
I would like to take a moment to point us toward a pressing issue. Hate against Asian American Pacific Islander communities has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to @StopAAPIHate, there have been more than 2,800 incidents since last spring alone. We must stand united against racism. Please visit stopaapihate.org to learn more about this serious issue and find out how you can support and help protect AAPI communities.