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?
In the context of a teenage relationship, especially Lara Jean’s very first, these are weighty enough inquiries. In writing, the angst they cause doesn’t seem overwrought, because viewers have a window into Lara Jean’s thinking. On-screen though, Condor’s charm—of which there is plenty—isn’t enough to sell the tension of John Ambrose’s threat to Lara Jean and Peter’s happiness. Though Fisher is a kindly presence, and it’s exciting to see a possible interracial relationship between two people of color, the love-triangle conceit feels forced. And even by teenage standards, the fights between the central couple never rise to the level of the devastation the screenplay attempts to convey.
In the Susan Johnson–directed original film, Condor and Centineo lit up the screen. Even in a high school, the most prosaic of settings, the pair were electric. Peter and Lara Jean’s nervous energy was palpable and symbiotic, making the movie’s resolution all the more earned. But as is the case for many established relationships, P.S. I Still Love You loses some of that verve and momentum. Centineo is muted this time around, and Condor’s Lara Jean begins to grate by the umpteenth complaint about Peter’s ex-girlfriend. However, these are largely forgivable lapses in Michael Fimognari’s project, which will likely still resonate on some level with fans of the books and 2018 film alike. The year and a half following the original film’s success has seen a boom in romantic comedies, as well as a slow rise in Asian American–led projects. Netflix alone has added several such productions to its library, among them the fizzy breakup saga Someone Great and the ebullient Ali Wong comedy Always Be My Maybe.
While romantic-comedy fans are now slightly less starved for new movies, P.S. I Still Love You is still an endearing production—and one that sets the stage for the newly announced adaptation of the final book. In the new film, Cathcart continues to amuse as the ever-scheming Kitty (and it remains a smart narrative choice to have made her original mailing of Lara Jean’s letters a decision prompted by goodwill as opposed to the frustration that animated it in the novel). As the Covey girls’ earnest father (and the widower to their late Korean mother), John Corbett remains a steadfast source of warmth and support.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the new film is the introduction of Stormy (Holland Taylor), a retiree whom Lara Jean meets while volunteering at a residential home for seniors. The adaptation doesn’t spend nearly as much time depicting Lara Jean’s bond with Stormy as the novel, but the few scenes when Taylor appears on-screen are among the movie’s most vibrant and complex, offering a rare depiction of intergenerational friendship. It’s a reminder that P.S. I Still Love You is most satisfying when it thoughtfully broadens Lara Jean’s circle to include people beyond Peter. After all, romance is wonderful, but it can’t be everything.