The final installment in the “To All the Boys” trilogy has finally been released on Netflix, just in time for Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day viewings. As it stands, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is the weakest of the three movies. With convoluted visuals and a deviation from the original premise of the novels that glosses over many impactful points, the rom-com will surely check off every Hollywood trope, but it will leave faithful fans of the book series disappointed.
One of the largest deviations from the book was location — the novel was set somewhere on the East Coast while the movie is set in California. Although not an obvious point of contention, this slight change affects plot points and removes depth from the original storyline. In the book, Lara Jean Song Covey’s (Lana Condor) top choice in college was the University of Virginia (UVA), in part because Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) was going there on a lacrosse scholarship, but largely because her deceased mother attended school there. Lara Jean’s status as a biracial Asian woman is something that is present throughout the entire book trilogy, as is her complicated feelings toward her father’s love interest. This depth is something the movie couldn’t replicate, and that significantly impacts the profundity. Instead, Lara Jean rarely mentions her mother, and UVA is replaced by one of the most cliche college choices in movie history: Stanford and New York University.
This choice is just one of the many unrealistic aspects of the film. One of the most infuriating moments of the movie is Lara Jean and Gen’s (Emilija Baranac) newfound friendship; in the book, the girls are cordial toward each other, but barely tolerate the other. In the film, they are practically best friends, asking each other for advice and extending invites to parties. This would be a great choice by the film’s director were the transition not so stark between films or had it been more thoroughly developed; it could have been a mature step for two young women who realize that a love interest doesn’t have to come between them. Instead, it is obviously an attempt to cover the film with a perfect Hollywood sheen that leaves no room for rivalries. Lara Jean is understandably insecure about Peter’s friendship with his long term ex-girlfriend, just as Gen is understandably hurt by watching her boyfriend of half a decade move on. These feelings could have created a more interesting plot line that would have resonated with the audience better. Instead, their complicated relationship is replaced by a hollow show of camaraderie.
The visuals aren’t much better. The last film, “P.S. I Still Love You,” had incredible cinematography and transitioned between seasons seamlessly. “Always and Forever,” on the other hand, begins the movie by placing the Song Covey sisters in a Cafe Yeonnamdong 223-14, a cafe that looks like it’s made of 2D materials. The director bounces off the 2D quality of the cafe, and every transition scene is drawn out on paper, sometimes alternating between animation and just script on a piece of paper that cuts from one scene to the other. The changes are jarring and lazy — it seems as though the director did not have enough imagination to cut to different locations or times other than simply move an animated paper airplane.
One of the only redeeming qualities of the film is that it sticks to its rom-com structure. It doesn’t concern itself with Lara Jean’s internal struggle to stay faithful to her mom, and although it touches upon Peter’s complicated relationship with his father in passing, it mostly focuses on the couple. The two are complicated enough as it is, but by developing their relationship throughout, the film hones in on Centineo and Condor’s incredible chemistry. It manages to capture the nuanced moments of a relationship — the moments where your pride wins out in a fight or when you share a moment so intimate that it makes your heart somersault. Although this directorial decision obviously comes with its downsides, it creates enough mindless entertainment that this rom-com has the potential to be among other cult classics.
Verdict: To its detriment, the film closes off every plot point with a neat bow that removes profundity from the beloved book series. However, by focusing on the romance between Lara Jean and Peter, it manages to give the audience a chemistry-filled love story sure to entertain for Valentine’s Day.