There is a lot of responsibility when it comes to the final installment of a trilogy. With The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, fans are expected to see the fairytale conclusion for the characters that they learned to love from the first two films. The YA romantic comedy To All the Boys series is no exception to this rule. After falling in love with idyllic dreamer Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and her dreamy boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), there was a lot riding on To All the Boys: Always and Forever.
Adapted from the trilogy of YA books by Jenny Han, To All the Boys: Always and Forever has our two lovebirds at the end of their senior year waiting to find out what their future holds, aka college plans. After getting a lacrosse scholarship to Stanford, Peter expects Lara Jean to also get into Stanford so they could move on from high school sweethearts to college sweethearts. We see an entire fantasy montage in Lara Jean’s head of their future — graduation, wedding, buying a home, parenthood, and even a book signing. However, all dreaming comes to a halt when Lara Jean doesn’t get accepted into Stanford.
After discussing it with Peter, Lara Jean plans on attending a neighboring university and then transferring to be reunited with her beloved. Problem solved, right? No! Of course not. The plans are thwarted again when Lara Jean visits New York for her senior trip and falls in love with NYU. Will Lara Jean go to NYU? Will she choose herself over Peter? Can their relationship last with the long-distance?
Spoiler alert: in the most predictable outcome, Lara Jean chooses herself and goes to NYU, but still retains the love of Peter, because “true love wins.” Even with its predictability and fantasy elements, it’s a sweet love story that leaves you feeling all gooey inside. There’s a reason why this film was released perfectly in time for Valentine’s Day — the day of love.
When To All the Boys I Loved Before first came out in 2018, it was praised for its representation of Asian Americans in YA/teen rom-coms. It featured an Asian American woman at the forefront as the romantic lead in a mainstream movie and not just being the love interest, but the main lead in general. After three movies surrounding an Asian woman, viewers wanted to see a picture-perfect happy ending because many Asians never get to see that for themselves onscreen. This movie is an escape to live vicariously through Lara Jean and her almost-too-perfect boyfriend. It is supposed to have that romantic happy ending because if we wanted realism, we’d watch something else.
But, it’s not just the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky that drives the story. The To All The Boys series has filled Lara Jean’s world with family and friends who fans have become invested in as well. Kitty (Anna Cathcart) really develops in this film beyond being the bratty sister who somehow plots everything for the family. (Remember, she did send out the letters and set her dad up with the neighbor in the last two films.) She has her own boy problems to deal with, but also still involves herself in her sisters’ lives. Lara Jean’s hot dad (John Cobertt) is the sweetest and most caring parent, but he has a whole love storyline of his own outside of his kids.
In P.S. I Still Love You, Lara Jean and Kitty dressed up in Korean hanboks to celebrate the Korean New Year with their extended family. It was a small scene, but it gave viewers a connection to Lara Jean’s Korean heritage. Always and Forever briefly touches on it again but from a different perspective. While on a trip to Seoul with her family, Lara Jean explores her mother’s homeland. During her trip, she calls Peter and reflects on being seen, but not actually feeling like she belongs. It’s subtle, but many from adopted and mixed families can relate to it. Though, I do wish they covered that a bit more in the films.
There are moments I do wish the film did add to heighten the stakes of Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship. It all seemed too easy that she did not get into Stanford and chooses NYU. I feel there would have been a bigger impact if Lara Jean did, in fact, get into Stanford and chooses NYU over her love for Peter. Being rejected from the university and settling on Berkeley to be closer to Peter was definitely Plan B and one she didn’t really want. It comes off as not really giving up on something that important to begin with.
Still, the film still makes it a point that Lara Jean chooses herself over a boy. If the boy truly loves you, then he’s going to accept the decision and make it work. The film’s conclusion was so sweet and paid homage to the first film — a contract. It’s a beautiful and happy ending that left my hardened soul feeling a bit warm. Maybe because, throughout the film, hot dad Mr. Covey mentions relationship growth multiple times. He gives Lara Jean some words to live by, “You can’t save this relationship by not growing” and it’s great to watch Lara Jean grow to become her own person and still get the guy.