“It’s a movie that works on a foundational level, with confident and engaging performances from its cast, and lots of the thoughtful, good-natured spirit of its predecessor, even when working through some of its new conflicts with a disappointing sameness.”
by Ken Bakely
Enjoyable, though sometimes less efficient than empty, is Michael Fimognari’s To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, a sequel to the likable 2018 hit, To All the Boys I Loved Before. It’s a movie that works on a foundational level, with confident and engaging performances from its cast, and lots of the thoughtful, good-natured spirit of its predecessor, even when working through some of its new conflicts with a disappointing sameness. In continuing the story of Lara Jean (Lana Condor) after the events of the first film, in which she ends up with Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) after all the chaos caused by her private love letters becoming public, we see the saga proceed to new drama from the same initial conflict. John Ambrose McLaren (Jordan Fisher), another one of the accidental recipients of Lara Jean’s letters, has received her years-old message, and writes back, wondering if she still wants to reconnect. Lara Jean puts off the issue, not knowing what to do. However, the matter becomes unavoidable when the two begin volunteering together at a local retirement community. She finds herself stuck between her growing relationship with Peter and the sparks that start to fly with the charming John Ambrose. Fimognari – working from a script by Sofia Alvarez and J. Miles Goodloe, and adapted from the second novel in Jenny Han’s trilogy – tries to guide us squarely through each new twist and development in this tension. Yet, with such bland professionalism, the winsome energy that carried the first film through most of its rough patches is often missing here, and that keeps the proceedings relatively stagnant.
Some of it has to do with a vague sense of detachment, causing a disconnect between the pressure felt by Lara Jean and the wavering nature of the movie around her, even building up to the movie’s finale. The eventual choice that she makes was bound to cause contention among viewers, many of whom have roundly declared themselves members of Team Peter or Team John Ambrose. Obviously, as to not spoil the end of the film (and not reveal my allegiance, of course!), I will not discuss the ending itself, but I will say that the movie somewhat fails to convince us that it is genuinely conducive to the dynamics and plotting of the story. P.S. I Still Love You tells its story with a thudding obviousness, and at its worst, devoid of genuine momentum: a sense of distance, as if the film isn’t certain or interested in whether it can sell its own ideas, permeates the second and third acts once the plot is set into motion. It amounts to a feeling of predestination in the end, with the movie presenting its ending with a perfunctory quality that seems curiously underemotional for all that happens in the leadup. In other words, the film struggles to escape the idea that its placement as part of a series means it can’t foray on its own; when constructing its place within the greater storyline, it struggles to thrive on its own merits.
And yes, there will be another entry in this series, as there’s another book to adapt. Yet in this installment, while we find ourselves cast a little further away from it when considering the mediocre script, there are also opportunities for us to feel drawn further in. For, at other levels, the movie often succeeds with its considerable talent. P.S. I Still Love You works on a moment-to-moment level when sketching its characters, both individually and collectively. Condor again shows how good she is in this role, able to anchor the movie through even its dodgiest scripting or least intuitive direction. Her chemistry with Centineo and Fisher is solid, and the rapport that she shares with Stormy (Holland Taylor), a witty resident of the retirement community, is delightful. Perhaps it’s not much of a stretch to say that the movie is at its best simply navigating its world, instead of trying to sell a conflict that it doesn’t seem as prepared to adequately resolve. We do come to like spending time in this sentimental and guileless environment, and with characters who do seem to live comfortably within it. This movie doesn’t bring quite as much warm, unassuming sincerity as the first one did, and spends a bit too much time on its blaring aesthetic – from the cinematography to the soundtrack, it’s all a bit on-the-nose – but the goodwill it accumulates in its character studies and sturdy delivery goes a long way to keeping us on board for wherever this chronicle goes next.