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- To All the Boys: Always and Forever
- Directed by Michael Fimognari
- Written by Katie Lovejoy, based on the novel by Jenny Han
- Starring Lana Condor, Noah Centineo and Janel Parrish
- Classification PG; 109 minutes
What Netflix algorithm birthed Peter Kavinsky, and how can we download it in time for Valentine’s Day?
In an age where toxic soft-bois run amok, online and unhinged, the devoted bae at the centre of the To All The Boys I Loved Before franchise (a series of three Netflix movies adapted faithfully from the novels by Jenny Han) is the stuff that Instagram fan pages are made of. Played by the emotionally clairvoyant 24-year-old breakout star Noah Centineo (don’t look at the actor’s Instagram, it ruins it), Centineo’s performance as romantic empath and lacrosse-playing jock Peter Kavinsky outshines the likes of Edward Cullen or Jim Halpert any day.
Tears will fall as you watch him order his girlfriend, Lara Jean Covey, diner pancakes with whipped cream to celebrate a shared success; you’ll squeal as he shows up with a boombox over his head in an homage to Say Anything. Most impressively, Kavinsky retains an impressive capacity for respecting his partner’s boundaries around sex, a rarity in any form of teen media.
After two movies in which Peter and Lara Jean (played by the grounded Lana Condor, in a performance every bit as charismatic as her male counterpart) first underwent a fake relationship to make their crushes jealous, followed by Lara Jean’s gnawing insecurity once they admitted their feelings in the follow-up, To All the Boys: I Still Love You, Peter now exists as the most committed boyfriend in streaming service history. In the final instalment, Peter and Lara Jean are now a serious couple on the verge of graduation, both determined to get into Stanford University, so they can be together until they die, open-mouthed kissing. When Peter gets into the school on a lacrosse scholarship, Lara Jean feels a desperate pressure to join him.
The TATB franchise has always excelled as a penetrating character study of Lara Jean, a shy Korean-American teenager and romance addict, who once wrote all her unrequited crushes secret love letters that she stashed in a shame box in her closet. (They were later sent out by her precocious younger sister, Kitty, who remains a wonderful foil to Lara Jean.)
Unlike the series’ weaker 2020 sequel, which saw Lara Jean fixated on Peter’s friendship with his ex-girlfriend Gen, she blossoms into a confident young woman in the new movie. One dreamy sequence sees Lara Jean on a Manhattan rooftop, gazing out at a neon-lit Empire State Building on a school trip to New York, making her offer from NYU all the most enticing. Everything tells us that high school relationships expire like milk after graduation. Is Peter worth choosing over a future that glitters like a Taylor Swift song?
The movie has a dramatic conflict as thin as a T-shirt from Forever 21, yet remains an empathetic portrait of a teenage romance worth fighting for. You will cry at least once from its potent cocktail of sweetness and sincerity, a precious rarity when every cynical teenager on Euphoria seems to be snorting ketamine en route to a sex party. Practically mandated to make one grand romantic gesture, tender confession or squinty half-smile per scene, Peter could not be trying harder to prove his worth to Lara Jean, which makes the tense circumstances around their future all the more heartbreaking.
The B, C, and D plot lines compete for relevance in the story with mixed results. There’s the bitter-sweetness of Lara Jean’s widowed father (John Corbett) and his upcoming wedding to a neighbour. A severely underbaked reunion between Peter and his estranged father should’ve been axed. Kitty gets a long-distance boyfriend whom she encounters when the Covey family visits South Korea during the fun, poppy montage that opens the film. But most importantly, Lara Jean’s rivalry with Gen finally gets squashed. Their shared excitement over their future in New York makes sense, and while this frothy rom-com won’t be passing a Bechdel test anytime soon, it’s nice to see these movies finally skimming through the course materials.
It’s hard to believe that in 2018, we’d never seen a rom-com heroine like Lara Jean before, a Korean-American teenager who was nerdy and shy, but also full of lustful secret longings. Condor’s portrayal of the heroine, in all of her stress-baking, boy-crazed, hair-accessorized glory, prioritized her heart and mind, and put proper suitors in place to vie for her affection. Netflix rom-coms are rarely this genuinely romantic, or emotionally absorbing, and thankfully, the last film sticks a mature and thoughtful landing. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, we must finally say, thanks for the memories.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever is available to stream on Netflix starting Feb. 12
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.