Most of our beloved teen movies never got a sequel. What happened after Lloyd and Diane got on the plane at the end of Say Anything? Did Claire and John stay together after she gave him one of her diamond earrings in The Breakfast Club? Do Cady and Aaron of Mean Girls eventually get married?
We never find out. The only teen movies that get a continuation of their stories usually involve vampires, werewolves and post-apocalyptic worlds. Netflix’s To All the Boys I Loved Before franchise is a refreshing end to this trend. All based on novels of the same name by Jenny Han, the 2018 movie was quickly followed up in 2020 with To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, the trilogy comes to a close with To All the Boys: Always and Forever.
After starting off with a fake relationship in the first movie and working through the bumps of being a new couple in the second, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) are finally seniors in high school. Their relationship has hit that perfect stride of being totally secure in your love. Together, they’re facing what most seniors face: The decision of where to go to college. Peter has already gotten into Stanford on a lacrosse scholarship and he and Lara Jean have big plans that she’ll get into Stanford too. Their lives as adults can finally begin. “You know what I’m looking forward to the most about college? Never having to say goodbye,” Peter tells Lara Jean. Alas, we all know if that happened there wouldn’t be a movie.
Graduating from high school and embarking on your college years is a rite of passage. And any adult would most likely look at a high school couple wanting to go to the same college with a tsk-tsk and a shake of the head. What Always and Forever does so well is show both respect for Lara Jean and Peter’s desire to be together while simultaneously acknowledging that they both may want different things in their life right now and that’s okay. The movie’s inherent message is that Lara Jean and Peter should pursue their own diverse interests and not let being one half of a couple define them.
There’s a sweetness to these movies that is such a welcome relief to tawdry doom and gloom of series like HBO’s Euphoria or Netflix’s recent Grand Army and the hyper-sexualized, wise-beyond-their-years CW shows like Riverdale. Is Peter too perfect? Absolutely. Is that okay? You better believe it.
In the vibrant, brightly colored world of To All the Boys, there are no drugs or skipping school. No depression. No problems that can’t be solved in two hours. There’s curfew, and wanting to do well and be responsible. Personally, I would like to think there are more teens on the To All the Boys end of the spectrum than on the Euphoria end of the spectrum. Color me naïve if you must, but as the parent of two young children I’m going to choose to live in this world of plausible denial for as long as possible. I invite you to join me here. The weather is nice and I have snacks.
Always and Forever also bucks the trend of the evil stepmother, casting Sarayu Blue as the Covey’s neighbor, Trina Rothschild. Trina and Lana’s dad (John Corbett, still rocking the best dad bod ever) began dating in the second movie and are engaged by the third. Trina is a supportive female presence in Lara Jean and her sisters’ lives. “I’m pretty sure you can’t call in sick from a relationship,” Trina lovingly tells Lara Jean when she decides to not go to school one day. Anna Cathcart remains a charismatic scene-stealer as Lara Jean’s younger sister Kitty. The bond between the three girls, including older sister Margo (Janel Parrish) is a lovely undercurrent to the movie. How refreshing to see women so supportive of one another.
In one of the movie’s most difficult storylines, Henry Thomas has a solid turn as Peter’s estranged father. “I think about my dad and I hate him. I miss him and I hate that I miss him,” Peter tells Lara Jean. Wisely, Always and Forever offers no easy answers here.
The one misstep the trilogy makes involves sex. By the third movie, the couple still have not done the deed. “We burn low and slow, okay? We’re like a brisket,” Lara Jean tells her best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur). We’ve already entered into evidence that I prefer this kinder, gentler take on teens, but even I find it challenging to believe that sex or lack thereof wouldn’t at least be a topic of conversation—and perhaps stress—between the couple.
Possibly indicative of what a successful franchise this has been for Netflix, Always and Forever opens with the Covey family on vacation in Seoul. Later Lara Jean, Peter and their friends take a senior trip to New York City. Both storylines were filmed on location in their respective cities (no generic Vancouver background here). In Seoul, Lara Jean and her sisters visit the famous Cafe Yeonnam-dong 223-14 and leave padlocks at the Namsan Tower. In New York, Lana and Chris hang out in Times Square and other iconic locations. Using real locales lends the movie an air of authenticity and will also make the viewer incredibly nostalgic for travel in the Before Times.
But aside from the globetrotting and the drama, at the heart of all three To All the Boys movies is the charming Condor, who infuses the movies with validity and radiates happiness. She is a delight to watch—always and forever.
Director: Michael Fimognari
Writer: Katie Lovejoy
Starring: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett
Release Date: February 12, 2021 (Netflix)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).