To All the Boys: Always and Forever (2021) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): Between her love and future

Netflix film “To All the Boys: Always and Forever”, which was released on Netflix yesterday, is the final chapter of the trilogy which began with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018) and then moved onto “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” (2020). While the first film was rather refreshing as having an Asian American female teenager at the center of the story, the second film was merely passable as losing its main novelty, and the same thing can be said about the third film, which is just mild and predictable even while buoyed by its engaging main cast members.

After their romantic relationship was tested more than once in two previous films as some of you probably remember, Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) are now about to graduate from their local high school together, and the movie opens with a cheerful sequence showing Lara Jean visiting Seoul, South Korea along with her father and two sisters. To be frank with you, Seoul does not look particularly awesome to me probably because I have been quite accustomed to Seoul for years as a South Korean, but everything in Seoul looks amazing and interesting to Lara Jean and her sisters, and they are also delighted when their father, Dr. Dan Covey (John Corbett), announces that he is finally going to marry a certain friendly neighbor to whom he has been close for a while.

While having this fantastic trip in Seoul, Lara Jean is looking forward to getting a letter of acceptance from Stanford University, one of several prominent universities she applied for. Because her boyfriend was recently accepted into Stanford via his athletic scholarship, she really wants to go there for being with him as usual, but, alas, it subsequently turns out that she will have to consider alternatives, and she naturally becomes conflicted when she has to inform of her boyfriend on the result of her college applications.

At least, she later receives a letter of acceptance from Berkeley University, which happens to be not so far from Stanford. While understandably disappointed to learn that they are not going together to Stanford, Peter is happy about her being accepted into Berkeley, and they remain optimistic about the next step of their relationship, though the situation may be a little more complicated if his lacrosse team ever happens to play against the Berkeley team.

However, there comes another problem not long after that. One of the universities for which Lara Jean applied was none other than New York City University, and she initially did not expect much from that, but, what do you know, her opinion on NYC University is quickly changed when she and her fellow schoolmates go to New York City for their field trip. While she is certainly pleased as having a little romantic time with her boyfriend during the first night of the field trip, she happens to get a little private tour into NYC University on the very next day, and she soon comes to sense that NYC University may be the best option for her future.

Of course, there subsequently comes a letter of acceptance from NYC University along with several pamphlets, and Lara Jean consequently becomes much more conflicted than before. She surely loves Peter, but, as a girl who is really passionate about English literature, she becomes attracted more to what she can possibly learn and experience in NYC University, and that eventually deteriorates her relationship with Peter, who also comes to have his own difficult personal matter as his father comes back into his life after many years of estrangement.

Around that narrative point, you will clearly see where the story and characters are going, and the screenplay by Katie Lovejoy, which is based on “Always and Forever, Lara Jean” by Jenny Han, does not have much surprise on that, but director/cinematographer Michael Fimognari, who previously directed “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” (2020), keeps things rolling as the story moves from one expected moment to another. Although the story begins to trudge around the middle act, the main characters remain likable enough to hold our attention to some degree, and that is the main reason why its rather overlong finale works on the whole.

Like its predecessors, the movie depends a lot on the natural presence and talent of Lana Condor, who ably carries the movie as her character goes up and down along her another tricky emotional journey as demanded. In addition to being effortless during her several key scenes with her co-star Noah Centineo, Condor is also commendable in conveying to us a loving and enduring relationship between Lara Jean and her family members, and Anna Cathcart, Janel Parrish, and John Corbett give small but solid performances as Lara Jean’s ever-supportive family. In case of several other substantial supporting performers in the film, Madeleine Arthur and Emilija Baranac are effective as Lara Jean’s two differently acerbic classmates, and Henry Thomas also gives a brief but fine supporting performance as Peter’s estranged father.

In conclusion, “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is less refreshing than “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, but it is as mildly enjoyable as “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” (2020) at least, and I gave it 2.5 stars considering that I gave 3 and 2.5 stars to its two predecessors, respectively. I think “The Half of It” (2020) is a far better Netflix teenage romantic comedy film featuring Asian American adolescent heroine, but I must recognize that film was possible because of the success of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before film trilogy, and “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” provides a fairly nice ending to the trilogy at least.

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