“To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You”

 

 

            It's a teen romance movie.  That'll send most of the adults running for the exits.  Most of the teenage guys, as well.  Who does that leave?  Well, pre-teen and early teenage girls.  But that's a very elusive demographic, and an audience target that moves faster than they can crank out the sequels.  This is the second in a series, by the way, and the third part is already in post-production.  But even that may not be fast enough, because these characters are looking less like the high schoolers they're supposed to be and more like the young adults they really are.  That means all their naivete and innocence plays kind of shallow and awkward.  But parents will appreciate that we're focusing not on sex, but on that timid first kiss;  not on heavy petting, but on just holding hands.  Everybody keeps their clothes on; everyone's virtue remains intact.  We're just hanging out and texting, and when we get together it isn't alcohol and drugs, it's pizza and cookies.

            Lara Jean (Lana Condor) enjoys her first romance as a 16-year-old; her boyfriend, Peter (Noah Centineo) is affectionate and considerate, and has given her a heart necklace, which she proudly wears.  But self-doubts creep in, particularly when she considers that Peter has already been in a relationship, so she wonders if he's just re-hashing the things he did with her.  To further confuse her, at a nursing home where she volunteers, she's met up with a boy she used to have a crush on, John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), and discovers that she's even more comfortable being around him than she is her own boyfriend.  So should he be her boyfriend instead?  Worse, she fails to tell John Ambrose about Peter, perhaps just waiting to see how all this plays out, but of course the two of them meet, with her in the middle, and she understands that most of the awkwardness there is of her own making.

            Lara Jean had already decided to write love letters to several boys, just for kicks, never intending to mail them, but her little sister discovered them and mailed them anyway.  Lara Jean is both mortified about her feelings being exposed, but also curious as to how those revelations will be received.

            So really what we have here is an old-fashioned love triangle in new garb.  John Ambrose thinks he might be making some headway with Lara Jean, Peter is confused about why Lara Jean seems to be holding back her emotions, and Lara Jean can't seem to decide what she wants.  This, of course, will eventually make everyone unhappy.  And the chemistry seems too forced, and the ending feels too hurried to have really solved the dilemma completely.  The trouble is, by the time the sequel is released, they'll be a new set of pre-teens in the audience.  And they will regard these now-adult actors as not looking much like them.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association