To All The Boy: P.S I Still Love You, the sequel to Netflix’s 2018 hit teen comedy To All the Boys I've Loved Before, is now available to stream.
Kicking things off almost right where we left them at the end of the first film, Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) are now an official item. Behind the scenes Michael Fimognari is now in the director’s chair instead of Susan Johnson.
Lara Jean’s boy troubles continue as one of her old crushes and recipients of her infamous love letters, John Ambrose, comes back onto the scene, now recast as Jordan Fisher.
The character was initially depicted as white in the first film in a flashback of Lara Jean’s, while Fisher is mixed-race. While he only initially appeared very briefly, a re-jig of the character now it's a more prominent role isn't surprising, it does feel notable considering the critical concerns of the first film.
Read more: Oscars 2020 TV audience hits a new low
One criticism levied at the widely-acclaimed debut was the lack of diversity among Lara Jean's crushes, primarily that a male Asian-American love interest would've been a welcome addition considering the demographic’s lack of representation in TV and film.
Her main love interest Peter is white, as were three out of four of the other recipients of the love letters her sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) secretly sent out on her behalf in the first film.
While Vietnamese-American Lara Jean still doesn't have any Asian-American love interests, her best friend Christine (Madeleine Arthur) falls for Peter's good friend Trevor played by Ross Butler, who is of Chinese-Malaysian heritage, further expanding the racial diversity of the cast. It seems as though fans concerns have been listened to to some degree, without being shoe-horned in.
But in spite of the welcome diversity, the film can’t help but feel like a letdown from the fresh simplicity of the first film.
While volunteering in a home for the elderly, Lara Jean reconnects with John Ambrose which leaves the heroine questioning her feelings for Peter, whom she already has plenty of insecurities about. Lara Jean is frustrated by Peter's flaws and it's hard to look beyond them once the cracks start to show as he turns into a rather unappealing suitor for the heroine, especially when compared with John Ambrose.
It doesn’t serve to put the reader in the confused mind of Lara Jean to make us feel her dilemma, rather it undoes the characterisation of the complex jock Peter was portrayed as in the first film.
Being a teenager is full of complexities but the follow-up makes itself unnecessarily complicated. There are quick changes of heart, scenes that feel forced and with Peter rapidly losing his shine - it’s hard to stay invested in a romance with him at the centre when he seems to have changed so much since the last instalment.
Another weak point in the series is the development of Gen (Emilija Baranac) - the mean girl, Peter’s ex and former best friend of Lara Jean. She continues on her campaign of petty cruelty after being consistently horrible to Lara Jean in the first film, however, at the end of the film we learn she’s got a lot going on at home.
We see a kinder side to Gen, but this redemption doesn’t feel genuine nor does it feel as though it naturally sits within the plot. It’s a positive to see Gen humanised (and it goes some way to explain why Peter won’t distance himself from her) but the lack of depth her turnaround is afforded leaves it feeling disingenuous and as though it will not be a permanent change.
The strength of the franchise lies in its overwhelming levels of charm, largely thanks to main player Lana Condor who has a bewitching screen-presence. It also returns with the colourful and comfy visuals complete with an excellent soundtrack.
It doesn’t live up to its predecessor but its warmth and familiarity will be a comfort to already-established fans, who will no doubt be back for the already confirmed third instalment.
Thankfully, there’s time for To All the Boys to end on a high after a second-film slump.