Disclaimer: I wrote this review with a slight bias against the series… spoilers ahead.
Netflix’s “To All the Boys: Always and Forever”—the final installment of the popular teen rom-com—is, well, good… at maintaining the low standard set by its predecessors. While it may be unfair to judge a series so harshly just because it caters to emotions rather than intellect, there is a clear difference between shameless romantic fluff and bad writing, and, unfortunately, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” falls into the latter category.
If there was one thing I appreciated about the movie, it would be its attempts to convey meaningful themes to its impressionable—pre-teen and teen—audience. The movie follows Lara Jean Covey during the college application process. One of the main plot points is her inner turmoil between going to the University of California, Berkeley, close to her Stanford University-bound boyfriend Peter Kavinsky, or New York University (N.Y.U.), the better fit. Surprisingly, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” doesn’t completely disappoint—Lara Jean ends up making the choice that’s best for herself. Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship difficulties are relatable and their actions demonstrate how to navigate uncertainties and show care.
Despite its largely positive underlying themes, the movie quality is undermined by the poor characterization. Although Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship is wholesome, there are still traces of their problematic past and individual faults established in the predecessors. Looking at their relationship across the trilogy, I think that both characters tend to be selfish and oblivious to each other’s feelings and well-being. Whether it be Lara Jean initially forcing herself onto Peter without consent or Peter’s strange relationship with his ex-girlfriend whom Lara Jean doesn’t feel comfortable around, the past two films have displayed a variety of reasons for why the relationship is unsteady. Sadly, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is no different.
This time, most problems in their relationship come from Peter Kavinsky. He is often ignorant and socially inept, making it difficult for me to understand why Lara Jean puts up with him. Throughout the course of this movie, he pressures Lara Jean into agreeing to transfer to Stanford after her freshman year, yet never asks her what she wants to do. Even when Lara Jean explains her desire to attend N.Y.U., he assumes it’s only temporary and that she’ll transfer to Stanford eventually.
To top it off, the movie itself wasn’t that entertaining, either. There’s only a certain number of sequels you can add to a romance series before it starts to feel like even the writers are getting bored, which is what happened for “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” The movie consisted of a few minor conflicts, Lara Jean’s father’s marriage, and then the characters head off to college. In other words, nothing eventful or exciting to keep the audience at the edge of their seat. Even when Lara Jean and Peter broke up toward the end, I remained uninvested. I knew that based on the series’ track record, they would end up together, though renewing their relationship was a “plot-twist” that I would have preferred not to see. If anything, the movie made single audience members feel bad whilst watching a collection of montages of an uninteresting relationship.
Overall, I’d give “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” a 3/5 rating. It had a lot of potential and could have sparked productive discussion about navigating relationships as a standalone. However, when paired together with the predictable plotline and slightly unlikeable characters, it’s safe to say that this most recent release from the “To All the Boys” trilogy helped show us that the series was “always and forever” going to be a set of unentertaining rom coms.