‘To All the Boys: Always & Forever’ is the perfect romance for pandemic-era dating disappointment

If there’s ever a time to appreciate a good fairy tale, it’s now

The latest film in the Netflix franchise has a poignant message for teens.

It doesn’t top the original, but the third instalment of the To All the Boys franchise delivers the same comforting, romantic idealism as its predecessors.

To All the Boys: Always and Forever does an unexpectedly good job of showing its young audience how couples should communicate to maintain a healthy relationship. There’s an important lesson in how to treat your partner woven through this colourful unassuming teen romance. 

The film follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) through their senior year of high school as a couple. Lara Jean has a serious case of the ‘hopeless-romantic,’ which works out because Peter is a model boyfriend—to an almost infuriating extent. The couple is so sickeningly adorable they could make a happy single person run out in frantic pursuit of their own meet-cute.

Lara Jean’s college acceptance doesn’t go according to plan, and things are further complicated when she falls in love with a school that’s across the country from Stanford University, where Peter has accepted a lacrosse scholarship.

Anyone can see that Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship is far from the reality of high school romances—high schoolers rarely achieve the same emotionally maturity. However, if there’s ever a time to appreciate a good fairy tale, it’s now; a year into the pandemic when many of us are reflecting on how staying home has impacted our love lives.

Despite its focus on the tired ‘high school couple facing life after graduation’ trope, Always and Forever contains decidedly few cringe-worthy moments. The dialogue is authentic and finds a balance between being clever and appropriately awkward.

My main criticism is that of the three To All the Boys films, Always and Forever comes closest to exploring some deeper material—but it fails to follow through. For example, Lara Jean feeling out of place as an anglophone Korean-American in Seoul is mentioned and then swiftly brushed over to keep her and Peter’s romance front and centre. In prioritizing the couple’s relationship above all other narrative elements, the film neglects to expand on some more interesting complications in the characters’ lives.

Visually, Always and Forever stands out. The mise-en-scène is colourful and well-suited to the romantic ‘our-whole-lives-are-ahead-of-us’ feeling the film creates. In the scene where Lara Jean and a new friend leave a college party and steal back a sofa, there’s something inherently youthful about the visual of the reclaimed pink couch stuffed into an empty subway car.

Beyond its entertainment value, Always and Forever teaches an important lesson about following your own path. The right partner will encourage you to follow your heart, even if it means your relationship may not be your priority.

Lara Jean and Peter’s lives are realistically complex, and while the movie’s plot does centre around the couple’s future, both characters exist as individuals as well. What’s easiest to appreciate about this film is the example it sets of a healthy relationship, even if it’s a little too good to be true sometimes.

While it may not be a cinematic masterpiece, To All the Boys: Always and Forever is successful in its goal of entertaining lonely Netflix subscribers for just under two hours. If the pandemic has done little to improve your dating life, this film might just be the lovey-dovey fix you need.

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