It’s an age-old romantic quandary: Once the initial excitement fades, even the most loving relationships can fall into a comfortable monotony. Peter Kavinsky’s got it especially tough. After all, how do you dazzle a girl when you’ve already posed as her fake boyfriend, twirled her around the high-school cafeteria with your hand in her back pocket, written her daily notes, driven to the Korean grocery store across town to pick up her favorite yogurt drink, and—oh yeah—admitted that your supposedly counterfeit affections for her are, in fact, real?
Kavinsky (played by Noah Centineo), the wholesome heartthrob of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, literally swept the bashful Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) off her feet in Netflix’s 2018 adaptation of Jenny Han’s young-adult novel. Their courtship began as a farce: Covey’s younger sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), had secretly mailed the five love letters that Lara Jean had written to a handful of her crushes and kept hidden in her bedroom. Shortly after receiving one of the letters, Kavinsky agrees to feign a relationship with Covey so she can save face with another note recipient. It wasn’t shocking when the pair ended up falling for each other despite the strict terms of their fake-dating contract, but the adaptation’s delightful spin on classic teen rom-com tropes did take many viewers by surprise. To All the Boys became a viral success for the streamer: The film gained a legion of fans (especially for Condor and Centineo), landed among Netflix’s most rewatched original content that year, and helped cement the platform’s reputation as a champion of romantic comedies.
But the same unexpected joy that the original film sparked in audiences is what sets up its sequel, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, to disappoint those familiar with the series. The simplest reason is that the second film, released yesterday, was never going to be able to capture the sheer novelty of the original. All the small, charming touches of the 2018 film, such as the fact that the teens almost exclusively refer to one another by their last names and Lara Jean’s impressive stress-baking skills, still exist in the sequel, but they’re no longer new and shiny.
In this, the film (written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe) parallels the experience of its characters. The sequel follows its central couple after the happily-ever-after ending of the original, as Covey navigates anxieties about being in her first relationship. It’s a sweet, uncommon thematic turn for a romantic comedy, and P.S. I Still Love You is often a fun, heartwarming watch. But where To All the Boys thrilled with its fresh, dynamic script, P.S. I Still Love You relies heavily on viewers’ assumed fondness for Covey and Kavinsky rather than offering a story with nearly as much effervescence as the first. More frustrating, the sequel bogs down what might’ve been an incisive exploration of teenage insecurities with multiple weak subplots, chief among them the quasi-love triangle between Covey, Kavinsky, and another of Lara Jean’s old crushes, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher).
Like the first movie, Netflix’s P.S. I Still Love You hews pretty closely to its source material, the second book in Han’s trilogy. But where the novel as a format provides ample space to explore Lara Jean’s interior monologue, the film expends too much effort attempting to dramatize her confusion. When John Ambrose suddenly reappears in her life and declares his affections for her, Lara Jean is torn. Had he seen her note sooner, would she and John Ambrose be together? Does her curiosity about that possibility mean she doesn’t really love Peter?