Culture Film & TV

‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ sequel – romantic or redundant?

In an effort to cash in on the popularity of 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Netflix has recently released a sequel, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. This second instalment continues the adaptation of Jenny Han’s bestselling book trilogy, extending the love story of the main characters, Lara Jean and Peter – though arguably with limited success.

The premise of the first book was engaging and it gained enormous popularity when the film adaptation graced our screens last year. Lara Jean’s love letters are accidentally sent to her old crushes, which culminates in a pretend relationship with the albeit conventionally attractive Peter, in order to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Naturally, the result is Lara Jean and Peter discovering their real feelings for each other and making it official.

The fake relationship trope is certainly predictable, but this first film was one that I felt was at least entertaining. The concept of the unintended love letter felt fresh, and, combined with a solid cast, it made for an enjoyable watch. It ticked most of the rom-com boxes, full of ups and downs that were neatly resolved with the couple’s final emotional realisation and a passionate kiss. Admittedly, as a fan of the romantic comedy, I accept predictability and weepy storylines with open arms. But the sequel, released this month, just didn’t sit well with me. The nauseating title P.S. I Still Love You warns that this follow-up will capitalise unapologetically on the successful concept of the first film, but there is little originality or added interest. In the new film we meet another recipient of Lara Jean’s love letters named John Ambrose, who soon becomes a source of conflict in her budding relationship with Peter.

Rather than being amicably witty like the first film, P.S. I Still Love You was, to me, simply boring. Perhaps the fault lies partly with the source material, since the second and third books in the trilogy were never going to be as strong as the first. In general, this recent age of sequels is becoming tiresome, with viewers knowing that they will watch every new release despite anticipating and later confirming that a further film was made without a strong concept in mind. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the movie has a good plot – it will be made anyway because it already has a captive audience.

From this more issues arise: when the quality of new releases no longer matters, their content becomes increasingly predictable, until it is frankly past the point of acceptability – even for a rom-com. In the case of this particular sequel, we soon get bogged down in Lara Jean’s inevitable break up with Peter, her reasons for which are flimsy and over-wrought at best. Perhaps most frustrating, however, is that the shaky plot depends on a succession of eye roll-inducing coincidences throughout. When it starts snowing in John and Lara Jean’s kissing scene, for instance, Peter turns up to drive her home, just as she decides she likes him again. As the couple reunited, I wasn’t caught up by the swelling music and on-screen emotion. All I could think was: I don’t really care. Please stop being so boring. Such manufactured plots in a rom-com can be stomached if the rest of the film has some kind of substance, but the characterisation in P.S I Still Love You is so weak that it didn’t resonate with me at all. I found myself wanting Lara Jean to ditch Peter and head off with the new guy, John Ambrose, if only because I was fed up.

But am I just being cynical? Perhaps the film still manages to capture some elements of the wholesome experience teen romance. Lara Jean is pretty loveable sometimes, and I definitely enjoyed the first film. The fact is simply that I didn’t need a second, or God forbid, a third movie, regardless of how attractive the cast is; it seems I would have been better off if Jenny Han hadn’t bothered to write a sequel.  In the end, I don’t care about relationship problems that spring up for Lara Jean and Peter after their first big happy ending. I would rather watch something more original. Instead of this endless round of pallid sequels, I’m craving the return of good, stand-alone rom-coms. Classics such as When Harry Met Sally or Clueless may be just as predictable, but their characters are warm and intriguing, and it’s rare we see their equivalent in the rom-coms of recent years.  

The second and third instalments of Han’s To All the Boys trilogy were filmed back to back, meaning the final film, Always and Forever, Lara Jean could be with us even before the year is out. And yet I will almost certainly be watching the third film. I accept that I’m part of the problem – just another disgruntled member of Netflix’s audience, sceptical but willing as ever to sit through another romantic film. So whilst I continue to be held captive by the drivelling, dull lives of Lara Jean and Peter, I really hope that someone somewhere is writing a romantic comedy that won’t make me feel so desperately unexcited about love.

Sarah Lewis

Sarah is a non-fiction contributor, primarily writing about film, TV and music. When she's not writing she enjoys spending time on the Cornish coast, and working on her poetry.