Netflix’s ‘To All the Boys’ Finale Will Make You Cry (and Cringe a Little)
“To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” the third (and final) installment in Lara Jean and Peter’s romantic trilogy, hits all the romcom notes for fans of the franchise.
Even before pressing “play” on Netflix’s To All the Boys: Always and Forever, you know it will have a happy ending. There will be moments throughout the film when you’re supposed to question whether the teen lovers at the heart of this treacly romantic comedy will actually stay together forever. After all, they’re only in high school. When heroine Lara Jean gets rejected from Stanford, where boyfriend Peter Kavinsky is committed to play lacrosse, things start to get a little rocky. But such moments are fleeting and unconvincing. The movie’s title tells you everything you need to know about the fate of our young couple.
Premiering on Feb. 12, just in time for Valentine’s Day, this third and final installment of the To All the Boys trilogy is a true-to-form romcom, meaning it’s uninterested in cynicism or even realism. Of course these two teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them, going to college 3,000 miles apart, are going to remain loyally committed to one another—forever, apparently. They’re meant to be, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so on and so forth. If you’re watching this movie in the first place, this is the fairy-tale ending you expect and want. Criticizing its predictability is a waste of time.
With that established, To All the Boys: Always and Forever is a perfectly sweet escape that fans of the first two movies (which I unabashedly am) will enjoy. Adapted from Jenny Han’s bestselling trilogy of young adult novels, the To All the Boys movies follow the relationship between bookish Korean-American teen Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and popular jock Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo).
In this latest chapter, directed by Michael Fimognari, Lara Jean and Peter’s love is put to the test when their plans to attend Stanford together fall through. Lara Jean finds herself having to choose between New York University, the unexpected college of her dreams, and Berkeley, the choice that would keep her close to her boyfriend. Along the way, there are two vacations, a prom, a graduation, and a wedding. Thematically, it’s just as crowded, with a mean girl redemption arc, secondary and tertiary romance narratives, the return of Peter’s estranged father, and the build-up to Lara Jean having sex for the first time.
It’s a lot to pack into just under two hours, and at times To All the Boys: Always and Forever feels more like a series of disjointed vignettes, not helped by the title cards breaking the movie into sections labeled for every major senior year moment. But each sentimental milestone is sure to solicit a sincere “aww”—or embarrassingly, in my case, the occasional tear—from viewers who have been invested in these beloved characters for two movies now.
The brightest spots come when Lara Jean is with her family. John Corbett is perfectly cast as the sensitive, hunky widower-dad to three teenage girls, dishing out profound nuggets of wisdom like, “Listen, Lara Jean, you gotta stay true to yourself.” Condor and her onscreen sisters, played by Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart, have believable chemistry whether they are singing karaoke, bickering over what to wear for family pictures, or crying to each other on FaceTime calls.
When To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before came out in 2018, it was lauded as a significant step for Asian-American representation in both the romcom and teen-movie genres. In the lead-up to the film’s release, Jenny Han told Bustle, “I’ve never seen an Asian-American girl be the lead in a teen movie before, so this is particularly meaningful for me.” She went on to explain that there was early interest in adapting her books prior to it being picked up by Netflix, but that interest always dissipated when she maintained that the lead had to be Asian.
In To All the Boys: Always and Forever, the way the film casually grapples with Lara Jean’s Korean heritage proves to be one of its most compelling strengths. FaceTiming Peter from a family vacation to Seoul, she reflects on how the city both does and doesn’t feel like home to her. “This girl, she came up to me speaking Korean,” she explains, “and it’s like, they see me, and they think I understand and then I don’t, and it’s like I don’t belong.” It’s a brief aside, but one that perfectly and powerfully distills Lara Jean’s conflicting emotions about growing up in a mixed-race household.
Ultimately, it may be difficult to resist the urge to roll your eyes when, at the end of the movie, Lara Jean confidently asserts that she and Peter will make it because they’re not like other couples. But honestly, if you’re watching the third movie in a Netflix teen romcom trilogy, you already know that you love this kind of cute-but-cringey, happily-ever-after suspension of disbelief. Just sit back, relax, and give in to the cheesiness—and don’t be surprised if the end credits make you cry.