Our Take: 2 Stars
When Lana Condor (“Deadly Class”) and Noah Centineo (“Sierra Burgess Is A Loser”) brought Jenny Han’s young adult novel to life in 2018, they were irresistible.
Netflix’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” became a pop-culture phenomenon for a few reasons: it had an endearing cast and a charming story; it was considered a big step for Asian-American representation; it had all the hallmarks of a classic rom-com.
The chemistry between the lead actors and the cutesy kitsch of the entire film made for an undeniably delightful experience.
Three years later, the third and final installment in Netflix’s franchise based on Han’s trilogy is substantially less delightful.
Following up on a comparably mediocre second film, “To All the Boys: Always And Forever” follows the now-iconic Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky through their senior year of high school and all of its accompanying turmoil: college admissions, the senior trip and prom.
Drama ensues when Lara Jean and Peter are not accepted into the same school, even though, as Lara Jean’s younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart, “Odd Squad”) puts it, they “aren’t cut out for this long distance thing.”
Lara Jean’s various crises and indecisions, which, at this point, any viewer of the TATB trilogy is intimately familiar with, make up the primary conflict of the rest of the film.
He gets into Stanford; she gets into Berkeley and then falls in love with NYU. What is a girl to do when the love of her life is going to school on the West Coast and she kind of wants to live on the other side of the country?
As Lara Jean struggles to answer the age-old question of head vs. heart (with all the appropriate theatrics), the film clunks through every trope in the book: Peter searches for reconciliation with his estranged dad, the Covey girls adjust to a stepmother and impending nuptials, and the standard drama of promposals and highschool romance unfolds in the background.
In true TATB fashion, Kitty has a secret, Margot offers maternalistic advice, Lara Jean bakes, Chris does something that’s supposed to be outrageous and Peter and Lara Jean break up at least once.
And of course, the storyline culminates with the two of them having sex, an entirely unpredictable and shocking turn of events.
The big issue with “Always and Forever” is that ostensibly it is about growing up, getting serious, learning there is a world beyond the confines of high school. But the film, and Lara Jean herself, are so wrapped up in themselves that the growth that happens seems forced and irrelevant anyway.
One can’t watch the film without wondering “So what?” Does it really matter and who really cares?
Not that it is an unwatchable movie by any means. The cutesy, over-the-top aesthetics that won so many hearts in the original 2018 film prevail in this one, from the costuming that made Lara Jean an icon to the graphics that give the film its true-to-the-original DIY flavor.
The soundtrack features fun cameos by Lauv, The Spice Girls, BLACKPINK and others. And Condor and Centineo certainly are not hard on the eyes.
Like the films that preceded it, “Always and Forever” doesn’t take place in the real world. The deliberately composited shots and meticulous sets give it a cartoonish, Anderson-y feel. And the events of the film are not particularly realistic either — it is a world where seniors at NYU invite random highschoolers to their parties, and where those parties take place on a rooftop lit by fairy lights, with live music and a one-in-a-million view.
But while this approach worked in the first film, it prevents this one from being anything but trite. Lara Jean’s doe-eyed innocence, inability to make up her mind, and quirky tendencies are endearing in the first installment, irritating in the second, and downright infuriating in the third.
Peter’s curly-haired, puppy-dog appeal captured hearts all over the world when he first appeared in 2018. But it is a little old at this point, and in this film Peter, for all his good looks and charm, comes across as mostly just immature.
Condor and Centineo are both talented actors, and the chemistry between them is still fun and enjoyable to watch. But despite their efforts and their apparent love for the film and their roles, “Always and Forever” falls flat due to a poorly developed plot and an absence of any real maturity that all of the cute visuals and pretty faces in the world do not make up for.
(And don’t even get me started on Kitty. She’s the worst.)