Always and Forever is stretched a little thin and relies on too much filler, but remains a charming teenage rom-com and gracefully ends the trilogy.
In some ways, the romantic comedy is the hardest film to resist — while they’re perhaps hit-or-miss at a higher rate than films in any other genre, when rom-coms are done right, they shine, and can offer as much insight into the human condition as any self-serious drama. The first To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before film was a shining example of exactly that. The combination of sincere chemistry between the film’s two leads — Lana Condor and Noah Centineo — and a script that had genuine empathy for their teenage melodrama, told through the tried-and-tested tropes of the romance flick, made for a film that was a welcome addition to the teenage rom-com subgenre. Now, having spurred a recent slate of Netflix look-alikes that have ranged from baffling (The Perfect Date) to brilliant (The Half of It), and having launched Noah Centineo’s career, the trilogy has reached its final installment. To All The Boys: Always & Forever follows Lara-Jean (Condor) and Peter (Centineo) as they embark on their shared future, with a vision of sharing their college years together. When Lara-Jean isn’t admitted to Stanford, the pair are forced to confront the reality of both a long-distance relationship and a future that doesn’t look exactly how they had hoped.
Once again, the film is carried by the charisma and chemistry of Condor and Centineo. While the supporting cast turns in work ranging from passable to irritating, Lara-Jean and Peter are too damn likable to get bogged down in much else; even during largely unnecessary detours to Seoul and New York, it’s difficult to be too bothered. However, these digressions do serve to illuminate the film’s biggest flaw: there simply isn’t enough plot to fill its 100-minute runtime. While it’s comforting to spend more time with these affable characters and experience their satisfying send-off, Always & Forever delays the inevitable by stretching thin every element of its plot. Between Lara-Jean’s father’s wedding, Peter’s reunion with his estranged father, prom, school trips, and resolving the fates of side-characters, the film loses focus. While Peter and Lara-Jean’s impending college conflict is the driving force of the film, it simply isn’t enough to support its entirety, and necessitates a lot of filler. For more agnostic viewers, that filler makes for an unnecessarily bloated film; for the faithful, it’s the heart of the series. Perhaps the greatest strength of the trilogy is its genuine empathy for teen melodrama — this film, like with the others, treats sitting together on the bus or writing the perfect yearbook message as deeply meaningful acts, conjuring the reality of teenage self-seriousness and emotional overdrive, and if you’re on board with this vibe, even the filler works to endear the characters and their small plights. If it fails to reach the heights of the first installment, Always & Forever still provides a heart-warming send-off that fans of the series will appreciate and puts a punctuation mark on what’s one of the better teen rom-com properties in recent years.
You can currently stream Michael Fimognari’s To All the Boys: Always and Forever on Netflix.