Arts & Entertainment Editor
Major spoilers for To All the Boys: Always and Forever ahead!
If you’ve ever been in one, you know long-distance relationships are hard — especially those that transition from high school to college. To All the Boys: Always and Forever makes this the core conflict of the third, and final, movie. For the past three years, Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has charmed audiences with Lara Jean and Peter’s love story. On Feb. 12, the final installment of the series was released for Valentine’s Day viewing pleasure.
The film opens with an artsy transition of linework to sketch out a cafe to show Lara Jean, her sisters, Kitty and Margot, her dad, and Trina, her dad’s girlfriend, in South Korea. She writes a letter to Peter, explaining how Korea is exactly how her mom said it was. A cute montage unfolds of Lara Jean exploring Korea with her family, and that felt very reminiscent of the first movie.
In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, there was a heavy emphasis on family and how Lara Jean’s healthy relationship with her family helps her navigate the struggles of teenage romance. This relationship was overshadowed by the love triangle in the second movie, and, around this time last year, I wrote about how that love triangle created unnecessary conflict throughout the movie. The sequel was also handed off to Michael Fimognari, despite Susan Johnson directing the first film. This change of director was prominent as Lara Jean’s family was almost non-existent in the second movie and Lara Jean became a lot more naive and problematic. With Lara Jean’s family having a prominent role again, I had high hopes that Fimognari got a better understanding of Lara Jean’s character. However, things quickly got convoluted with Lara Jean’s worries for her and Peter’s future.
Lara Jean and Peter are planning to go to Stanford together. Peter got a lacrosse scholarship, and Lara Jean had to impatiently wait for her college acceptance notification. She already had everything planned out. Her and Peter would go to college together, which would lead to happily ever after, just like the montage that showed their future, right? In typical rom-com fashion, Lara Jean was rejected from Stanford, and her hopes for the future were shattered (literally, a sad cover of Spice Girls “Wannabe” played in the background as her perfect future was dismantled). Then starts the part where the movie becomes frustrating.
Lara Jean gets a text from Peter asking if she was accepted, and, at the same time, she gets a text from her sister, Margot, asking if they’re okay. (The two got into an argument earlier because Lara Jean makes a snarky remark about Margot being in Scotland.) She replies “Of course, love you” to Peter, when she really meant to send the text to Margot. So, for the next bit of the movie, Lara Jean fails to tell Peter that she was rejected, all while Peter celebrates that they’re going to be together in college. (Woo, they’re not going to be another statistic!)
Lara Jean then learns that she was accepted into UC Berkeley, which is only an hour away from Stanford. Phew, relationship saved! Lara Jean plans to tell Peter this whole sequence of events after they land in New York, where they’re going for their senior trip. While the two are out in New York City, Lara Jean tells Peter that she wasn’t accepted into Stanford but was accepted into Berkley. Now, I thought, throughout the trilogy, that Peter was an okay boyfriend. He wanted to be with Lara Jean and tried to prove this through his actions. However, he was also self-centered in his intentions. The first thing Peter says when Lara Jean breaks the news is, “Are you okay?” He then goes on to be supportive and even suggests that Lara Jean can transfer to Stanford after a year. I understand wanting to be with your girlfriend and being scared of the distance, but he seems to be okay with holding her back. What Lara Jean is deciding to do with college depends on Peter and where Peter is going. There’s even the sense that this isn’t really what she wants because it all goes back to Peter.
What happens next determines the course of the rest of the movie. One of Lara Jean’s schools she applied to was NYU, and there is a scene that basically feels like an NYU advert. Lara Jean doesn’t realize that NYU was literally in Manhattan, and she begins to fall in love with the city. After attending an NYU party, she begins to realize that she can really see herself being there. This causes Lara Jean to look up how far away Stanford and NYU are (spoiler alert: it’s pretty far) and to wonder if she really wants to do that to her relationship.
The movie foreshadows this at the beginning when Lara Jean is in Korea. Lara Jean says that Peter makes fun of her for being a homebody, but she’s finally coming out of her shell and seeing new places. That wasn’t enough to convince me that she really fell in love with New York, though. A lot of the movie doesn’t get into the headspace of Lara Jean. Sure, there were really pretty shots of New York City, but is that actually how Lara Jean sees it? Is that her falling in love with the city? Even the sequence where she sends selfies to Peter feels like she isn’t falling in love with the city because we don’t get to hear her voice-over (which serves as her inner thoughts throughout the movie). The movie lacks magical realism that allows the audience to see into Lara Jean’s mind. She goes back and forth on settling for Berkley or doing what she really wants.
As her dad says, “Listen, Lara Jean, you’ve got to stay true to yourself. Okay? You can’t save this relationship by not growing.” Those wise words make Lara Jean suddenly realize that she wants to go to NYU, and that her relationship with Peter can endure the 3,000 miles, despite all of her doubts earlier. However, Peter doesn’t think so, at first, and the two break up (momentarily). Of course, they get back together at the end of the movie. They are Lara Jean and Peter, after all (they’re not like other couples); they can last through four years of college.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever tackles an existential issue that a lot of high school couples go through. If this movie came out when I was a high school senior, it would’ve hit me really hard. It’s an important and mature message that shows teenagers, and reminds the rest of us, that, despite everything, make sure you’re doing what you want.
However, it probably helped me see that long-distance relationships aren’t as easy as you make them out to be in your head. Throughout the movie, neither of them seem to be sure that they want to be in a long-distance relationship. They already had issues with communication, even in the previous two movies, but they end up together in the end anyway. Fimognari misses the mark by portraying a cliché dilemma without reinventing it, or, at the very least, being realistic.
It’s 2021, give me a teenage rom-com that doesn’t end with a happily ever after. Give me a teenage rom-com that ends in a break-up, but it’s done in a healthy and mutual manner. While I agree that teenagers need to see that relationships can be worked through, they also need to see when they’re being too idealistic. Coming from experience, long-distance relationships are difficult. They require a lot more effort than what’s explained in any books or movies, and, sometimes, it’s for the better that you part ways. But, then again, when have rom-coms ever been realistic?
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Katie Yu / Netflix