To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before caught streaming audiences by surprise when it first appeared on Netflix in 2018 as a sweet film about the act itself of falling in love. Two years later though, To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is here to raise the question of what it means to make an actual relationship work.
As the second film in a trilogy, viewers will necessarily have a different relationship to P.S. I Still Love You than they did to the beyond-beloved, much-memed original story. By design the sequel tackles the prospect of what might have been and the strain of resolving who you are within a couple versus who you are as an individual—particularly at a time when sense of self is subject to so much scrutiny. All fertile ground for storytelling, to be sure. Unfortunately, the script is never fully up to the task, and the overall narrative arc is muddled. Most troubling, two of the original film’s animating principals, heroine Lara Jean’s personal growth and her relationships with her sisters, got lost in the fray.
Lara Jean Song-Covey (the permanently endearing Lana Condor) starts the movie by going on her first official date as Peter Kavinsky (the internet’s boyfriend, Noah Centineo). After the events of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the pair are finally a real-live actual couple.
Josh has noped right out of the whole scene now that he’s not part of the love triangle, and LJ is trying to figure out what it means to be a girlfriend to the most popular guy in school. His possessive ex/Lara Jean’s frenemy, Gen (Emilija Baranac), is still coming for her neck, but LJ’s friends Chris (Madeleine Arthur) and Lucas (an underutilized Trezzo Mahoro) have her back. It turns out Lara Jean’s biggest problem is that her last letter made its way to John Ambrose MacLaren (Jordan Fischer, somehow making us swoon even though we’re #TeamPeter), who now reenters her life just in time to make her question whether she should really be with Peter, after all.
While Condor and Centineo’s easy chemistry still jumps off the screen, gone is the electric spontaneity of a million tiny wow-moments like Peter spinning Laura Jean by the back pocket of her jeans, and Peter moving the popcorn during the pillow fight. Those were the moments that elevated the first film into the pantheon of the great romantic comedies of all time; mythic moments that feel like they came straight from fanfiction but were executed with such relaxed confidence by Centineo that it felt like watching a master class seminar.
Holland Taylor’s Stormy, a spitfire at an old folks’ home where Lara Jean volunteers, is a lovely addition who brings some much-needed advice to the proceedings since Margo and Chris are apparently otherwise occupied. In one of its best plot decisions, TATBILB 2 turns a plot hole from the first movie into an emotional gut punch that reframes how we see one of the films central relationships. Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why, Reggie on Riverdale for a hot minute) plays Trevor, a character we’re meant to think was there the whole time. He’s mostly fine, but the script is a bit too scattered to know what it wants to do with him other than supplant Peter’s friend Greg from the previous movie (remember the guy who tried to make LarJee a thing? Yeah, it’s fine if you forgot.)
Direction and production quality are still far above and beyond what anyone would expect for a teen rom-com on Netflix, with the eye-catching color palette continuing from the first film. So many shots look like perfectly composed still photos, but in a far more colorful world–in every way—than, say, Wes Anderson films, which typically draw that kind of compliment. That said, there’s one format-breaking sequence that feels a bit out of place and then is over so quickly viewers might think they imagined it. Was it Lara Jean’s own imagination? A nervous breakdown? Something that really happened? We may never know, because the movie kept rolling and never looked back.
One of the most troubling issues is that the film lacks a distinct message about Lara Jean’s growth as a person. The first film was clear that while getting together with Peter was great, her friends and family were really just happy to see her come out of her shell, be happy, and become a truer version of herself. P.S. I Still Love You has a shining moment of emotional breakthrough for LJ that’s incredibly mature and frankly comes as quite the surprise, but unfortunately it doesn’t connect all that well as a thesis to the rest of the movie. Once her realization occurs, the audience is set adrift in the final act, knowing there’s not enough time to genuinely be sold on the merits of either love interest.
Perhaps the greatest crime of all is that the relationship between the sisters—an essential building block of the first film—is nearly nonexistent here. Janel Parrish’s older sister Margo is even less present than she was in the first movie, only appearing via the occasional video chat. Kitty (perpetual scene-stealer Anna Cathcart) is still around and wonderful as ever, so hilarious and charming that she even makes exposition seem fun, but beyond the odd jab at Lara Jean and attempt to play Cupid for her father, she’s barely in the movie.
It’s entirely possible that both this film and the upcoming To All the Boys I Loved trilogy closer will function better as a two-parter than this movie does as a standalone. Consider that they were written in tandem. However, that does little to improve this movie here and now, which has struggles beyond the usual issues inherent to being the centerpiece of a trilogy, like dropping Dr. Covey’s (John Corbett) love interest storyline spontaneously.
Like all trilogies, the second installment can be the hardest to love since its place in the narrative arc tasks it with creating tension and disrupting whatever gains were made in the first film. While it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, the latest installment misses the mark on the fundamentals, and To All the Boys P.S. I Still Love You is ultimately a far less coherent movie than the first, even with the considerable talents at its disposal.