The first of two conclusions to Netflix’s collection of teen romances, To All The Boys: Always and Forever ends a trilogy that unlike other teen franchise The Kissing Booth actually allowed its characters to grow and change over the course of its three film run instead of rehashing the same storyline in the hope things will change. Always and Forever feels like the ending of a high school story and because of it, the characters you see here are different and thankfully less interested in continuing the same awkward love triangles that maligned the middle chapter. Although never reaching the comedic highs of the opening film and the natural direction of original director Susan Johnson, Always and Forever might just be the most grown up of the series, a story busting at the shackles of high school, the immaturity of pointless feuds and the excitement of moving forward. Despite being filmed back to back with the 2nd film, director Michael Fimognari seperates his final story and imbues it with an optimism missing in his middle chapter, one rehashing the dynamics of the first film with little of the heart.
Here Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has found a security in her relationship with Peter (Noah Centineo) and safety in the plan for them both to attend college together. They still go for pancakes at the diner, hang out at the same spots and play it safe but when Lara Jean’s plans begin to change, the question of if their relationship is one for the future comes into question. It all feels oddly quaint and very high school. Questions of long distance relationships and nagging relatives threaten to make this just another high school love story but Fimognari and more specifically writer Katie Lovejoy delve into a discussion about the danger and excitement of the unknown, the beauty of jumping without a safety net and ultimately, living life as an adult. Here the enemy is stagnation and a smartly comic script makes this exploration of who Lara Jean is without Peter one that adds some much needed vitality to a film with little when it comes to narrative drive. While surprising it took this long to really find the real Lara Jean, Always and Forever finally treats her like the protagonist of her own story just in time for the end.
Although it is dragged down by needless padding including a stunning but utterly pointless detour to Korea that serves little to no purpose despite alluding to the distance these two will have to endure should their plans change, it is a manipulative and bitter opening to a film that’s main quality is the warmth in which it handles its characters. While never quite living up to the highs of a romance that surprised in 2018, Always and Forever is a pleasant but at times unaffecting conclusion to this series but not one I’m disappointed to have taken part in, at least from the sidelines.