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Sequel to film 'To All the Boys I've Loved Before' disappoints

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor play the characters of Peter Kavinsky and Lara Jean Covey in the film adaptations of the books series "To All the Boys I've Loved Before."  – Photo by Instagram

The first article I ever wrote for The Daily Targum was in October of 2018, during my first year at Rutgers. It was a rather lengthy and opinionated analysis of the Netflix hit “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” written by a naive romantic-comedy fanatic who wore her rose-colored glasses with great pride. Since then, much has changed in terms of my worldview of romantic optimism, but there is still a lot to admire in this film. 

Apart from the cute, cheesy archetypes we all know and love in a teen movie, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” did a world of good when it comes to cultural representation for young girls. The film is based on a best-selling young adult series of three novels by Korean-American author Jenny Han. The story centers around the life of the lovable and idealistic protagonist, Lara Jean Song-Covey, who writes some consequential love letters that change the course of her life. 

For me, the subtle but significant depiction of diversity in the film, its emphasis on the importance of familial and sisterly love and its modern take on stereotypical romantic tropes are what make it easy and to watch time and again. The only thing that I don’t like about the film is that its title is a mouthful to say and type, so I’ll be shortening it to “TATBILB.”

After the success of the first film, Netflix decided to shoot the next two movies: “TATBILB: P.S. I Still Love You,” which was released in a timely fashion before Galentine’s and Valentine’s Day, and “TATBILB: Always and Forever, Lara Jean,” which is rumored to come out later this year.

In addition to the original cast which consists of actors like Lana Condor as Lara Jean and Noah Centineo as a heartthrob lacrosse player, Peter Kavinsky, Netflix also added the talented Jordan Fisher into the mix for this sequel’s love-triangle storyline. Fisher plays one of Lara Jean’s middle school crushes, John Ambrose, and is a stiff competition for the charming Peter. Reminiscing on the divisive nature of the “Twilight” fandom, people took to social media to declare themselves on “Team Peter” or “Team John” for this film.

Fisher is a triple-threat as a former Disney star who won “Dancing With The Stars” in 2017 and has acted in “Grease: Live” and “Rent: Live” on Fox. He is currently killing it on Broadway as the titular character in the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”

In this film, Lara Jean and Peter finally pair up as girlfriend and boyfriend. They endure some setbacks in their high school relationship as they are both inseparable from their pasts and insecurities. The question our protagonist ponders for most of the film is if she can be the “perfect” girlfriend, given that this is the first relationship she’s ever been in and her experience is limited compared to Peter’s. 

I liked this sequel, but I loved the first film and this installment did not live up to the hype or personality of the first one. This movie has some sweet moments when engaging with the importance of Korean heritage in Lara Jean’s life and how it keeps alive the memories of her late mother. One of the first scenes is a beautiful celebration of the Korean New Year, where Lara Jean and her little sister don hanboks

Later in the film, when ruminating on her relationship with her ex-best friend who also happens to be Peter’s ex-girlfriend, Gen, Lara Jean talks of a Korean word her grandmother taught her: “jung.”

“It’s the connection between two people that can’t be severed. Even when love turns to hate, you will always have tenderness in your heart for them,” she said. I enjoyed this thought that she narrates because it plays into the dynamic of a very unlikely and unique kind of relationship, that of frenemies.

I wish the team behind this movie had paid a little more attention to Lara Jean’s relationships outside of romances: her sisters, an elderly maternal figure named Stormy and her best friends Chris and Lucas. They are underrated and awesome characters that don’t get a chance to be fully fleshed out in this film. There are quite a few new characters and loose ends that don’t get tied up because of the fundamentally chaotic nature of the story.

Ironically, the rom-com aspects of the film are where “TATBILB 2” falls short. John Ambrose is meant to be an obstacle in its storyline and Fisher’s portrayal of him has the viewers rooting for him. But in the end, he isn’t done justice as a character. 

Centineo is somewhat dull and forced in this film and I wasn’t as taken with Peter. At the beginning of Peter's first and last scenes, the Netflix-closed captions read: “(music swells),” but throughout the rest of the film, he does not truly make your heart flutter in the same fashion as in the first film. 

Note also that Centineo has played a repetitive, adorkable role where he tries and fails to live up to Peter's character in pretty awful Netflix films, like “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” and “The Perfect Date.”

Things that I loved in this film, as I did in the first, were the fashion choices made for the female characters in this film. The cool-toned aesthetics and cinematography that reminded me of the Instagram filter Clarendon, and the special attention paid to food in muted ways which were, to me, reminiscent of the stunning culinary scenes in “Crazy Rich Asians.” The music in this film is great too, with “About Love” by MARINA, “Moral of the Story” by Ashe and “Crashing (feat. Bahari)” by ILLENIUM being standout songs on the soundtrack.

I’m hoping the final film, which has already wrapped up on production, is more substantial like the first. I would still recommend you watch the second film because Lara Jean’s story remains worth telling. 

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