2018’s To All the Boys I Loved Before felt like a fresh new rom-com for a younger generation. The cast was diverse, the attitudes were modern, but there was clear kinship with 80s romantic comedies. The movie played like an evolution of the genre for teens that are discovering rom-coms on Netflix, and Netflix got a popular rom-com to call its own. Now we’ve got the sequel To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, which tries to dive into what happens after “happily ever after.” The problem is that grey space is kind of antithetical to the rom-com formula that made the original pop. While the lead actors are still charming and the visuals are still bright and colorful, the narrative moves in a more serious direction of a couple trying to work past their insecurities while the protagonist flirts with the possibility of a new love. There’s still enough magic to make the sequel work, but P.S. I Still Love Youfeels like a matter of diminishing returns.
Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) are beginning their relationship as our story begins, but their “happily ever after” is quickly upended by two new threats. The first is that Lara Jean, who has never had a boyfriend before, becomes worried that every move Peter is making with her is one he made with his old girlfriend, Gen (Emilija Baranac), so that while everything is new to Lara Jean, it’s not particularly special to Peter. Lara Jean’s world is rocked further when her middle-school crush, John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), who also received one of her letters, comes back into her life when he coincidentally volunteers at the same nursing home. Lara Jean must decide if she wants to work things out with Peter or pursue a new relationship with the charming and dreamy John Ambrose.
The best aspect of P.S. I Still Love You is how it retains the original’s infatuation with relationships. Watching both movies is like hopping in a time machine and going back to when the most important thing in the world was who liked you and being someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend. The earnestness and charm of these movies is how it makes you invested in what these characters feel even if you’ve long left their cares behind. With its bright, colorful palette and confident visuals, To All the Boys and its sequel can instantly transport you into a lovely rom-com that doesn’t feel like a retread of the genre.
Where I Still Love You falters is that it doesn’t have the tight, easy stakes of the original, and while that’s by design, the sequel doesn’t quite have an identity of its own. The first film is pretty simple set-up and pay-off: Lara Jean and Peter pretend to be in a relationship to make other people jealous only to fall for each other. I Still Love You wants to have it both ways where you see a burgeoning, dreamy relationship between John Ambrose, and also the difficult reality of being an insecure high schooler in your first romantic relationship. On paper, I can appreciate what I Still Love You is trying to do by showing the evolution of Lara Jean past dreamy rom-com beginnings into something more mature and difficult. The problem is in the execution that can’t quite make everything cohere together.
Part of the problem is with the split narrative, and while it does offer Lara Jean two paths forward, there’s never much doubt of which direction she’s going to go. Also, like To All the Boys, the sequel suffers from the issue of making anyone who’s not Lara Jean or Peter rendered flat with only the occasional lip service to how they might have interior lives beyond our central romance. Granted, the rom-com isn’t known for rich, deep supporting characters, but a lot of rom-coms don’t get sequels, so there should be at least some time fleshing people out, especially someone like John Ambrose who’s supposed to rival Peter.
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is still a nice rom-com for the Netflix crowd that wants to chill out with a sweet picture with charming lead actors, and I do appreciate that it’s trying to do something slightly different rather than just replicate the formula of the original. But while To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before can easily stand as a rom-com staple on Netflix, P.S. I Still Love You is more of a curiosity that you’ll probably watch once before pressing play again on the first movie.