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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Review: Painfully mediocre 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever' proves Netflix series has run its course

The once-delightful film franchise is now as confused about what it wants to be as the teens it is centred around

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor fail to recapture their spark from earlier films in 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever'. Courtesy Netflix
Noah Centineo and Lana Condor fail to recapture their spark from earlier films in 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever'. Courtesy Netflix

When To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was released in the summer of 2018, audiences and critics alike instantly fell in love with the delightful Netflix romcom.

It was impossible not to, as director Susan Johnson and writer Sofia Alvarez’s seamless adaptation of Jenny Han’s 2014 novel was a breezy crowd-pleaser that somehow felt nostalgic and modern. It was also bolstered by two truly star-turning performances from Lana Condor and Noah Centineo as loved-up high school couple Lara-Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky.

It was, therefore, disappointing when last year’s follow-up, To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, failed to recapture the charm and magic of the original, especially when it came to the dynamic between the two protagonists.

Unfortunately To All the Boys: Always and Forever is as painfully mediocre. This time, Lara-Jean and Peter’s plans to go to Stanford University in California together are complicated when she doesn’t get in. They’re then thrown even further into disarray when Lara-Jean suddenly starts to contemplate going to New York University, more than 4,500 kilometres away.

These major problems never feel entirely addressed, as To All the Boys: Always and Forever flirts with its substantial themes and conflicts without ever diving into them. As a result, the film either feels like it’s going round in circles or just dragging.

None of this is entirely Condor and Centineo’s fault. Condor, especially, still manages to captivate, despite her character suddenly seeming so at odds with the one we meet in the first film. There is one highly emotional scene in particular where she showcases the talent and versatility that has made her so popular and relatable.

It’s just that the spark they had is either completely absent or comes across as forced and inauthentic. Occasionally the pair look like they might be able to make up for these shortcomings and single-handedly save the film. But, instead, To All the Boys: Forever and Ever becomes so frustrating that audiences will be left wondering how and why they ever found them so charming in the first place.

The third film in the Netflix series repeatedly struggles because it doesn’t actually know what it wants to be. It’ll be on the verge of taking an honest look at how your first relationship can be torn apart by inner demons and adult choices, only to then nose-dive into romcom tropes.

In the third film in the franchise, Lara-Jean and Peter’s plans to go to Stanford University together are complicated when she doesn’t get in. Courtesy Netflix
In the third film in the franchise, Lara-Jean and Peter’s plans to go to Stanford University together are complicated when she doesn’t get in. Courtesy Netflix

All of which makes the decision not to bring Johnson back to direct for either sequel, and only have Alvarez co-write the second instalment, seem all the more egregious.

Johnson’s replacement, Michael Fimognari, admittedly ensures the film looks gorgeous, unsurprising when you consider he worked as a cinematographer before making his directorial debut with To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You. That alone stops this film from being an utter failure, while Anna Cathcart contributes to this cause with another scene-stealing performance as Lara’s mischievous younger sister, Kitty.

But the nuances, romance and all-round fun of the first film have been almost entirely absent from its two follow-ups. So much so that, even though this one clearly sets up another sequel, it already feels as if the series has run its course.

Published: February 12, 2021 07:03 AM

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