FILM

Does "To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You" Ignore Red Flags?

Lara Jean Covey deserves better.

This article contains spoilers.

Last week, Netflix celebrated Valentine's Day by premiering To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.

A film adaptation of Jenny Han's novel of the same name—and the sequel to 2018's hit To All the Boys I've Loved Before—P.S. I Still Love You begins with Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky's first date as a real couple. After feigning their romance in order to spark jealousy in a mutual enemy, the unlikely couple are in it for real this time; that is, until Lara Jean receives a response to the last of her numerous love letters that her sister sent out behind her back in the first movie.

The subject in question is John Ambrose McClaren, who reveals that the feelings Lara Jean had for him when they were younger were mutual. Serendipitously, the two end up volunteering together at Belleview Retirement Villa, commencing Twilight levels of love-triangle drama (OK, not quite—although "Team Peter" and "Team John" hashtags were floating around social media).

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To All the Boys I've Loved Before was enjoyable for quite a few reasons, including well-done Asian-American representation within the film's central family, but also because Lara Jean is an incredibly relatable and surprisingly underrepresented type of protagonist. Although she's never been in a relationship, she's self-assured and not socially awkward, opposing the persona that many post-Never Been Kissed rom coms tend to assign their female leads. As Lara Jean begins navigating a true relationship for the first time in P.S. I Still Love You with a seasoned dater like Peter, she brings up valid concerns: What are the right and wrong ways to be a girlfriend? How do you reckon with experiencing each of your "firsts" alongside someone whose "firsts" are things of the past?

But the depth of P.S. I Still Love You pretty much ends there. Although Peter is no novice to boyfriendhood, he still stumbles his way through pursuing Lara Jean; he shows up hours late to their coffee date and leaves much to be desired on their first Valentine's Day together. Gen, Peter's ever-threatening ex-girlfriend, warns Lara Jean that the dates he plans might not be so thoughtful after all. The red flags are endless, but Lara Jean finally decides it's over when she sees a compromising photo of Peter and Gen looking a little too comfortable together, opening the door for her to explore her interest in John Ambrose. Meanwhile, although the viewer never gets quite as full a scope of him, John Ambrose seems much more well-intentioned and level-headed throughout the film. But when the two finally kiss, Lara Jean makes the rather disappointing decision that she still wants to be with Peter, with whom she reconciles.

The overarching message of P.S. I Still Love You, if there even is one, seems to urge us to ignore warning signs and get back together with our negligent ex-partners. The film is entertaining, but it strips Lana Condor's excellent lead performance into just another rehashing of an exhausted trope. It would've been refreshing to see Lara Jean deepen her relationships with the other female characters. Her screentime with her best friend, Chris, is minimal. Lara Jean does confide in Stormy, a feisty resident of Belleview, but the elder's advice hardly dips below "follow your gut." In a pretty surprising twist, Lara Jean attempts to rectify her former friendship with Gen. But the spiel Lara Jean gives her is self-pitying and, honestly, uncomfortable: "Part of the reason [I broke up with Peter] was because when he was with me, I always thought he was thinking about you," Lara Jean explains. "I was convinced that he was never really gonna get over you. And then I realized that the person who couldn't get over you was me." This speech, although framed as a climactic revelation, completely negates Peter's faults and Gen's meddling habit. Lest we forget Peter slept in Gen's room the same night he kissed Lara Jean on their school's ski trip, and does Gen really have nobody else besides Peter to comfort her during her parents' divorce? Although it's implied that Gen and Lara Jean are beginning to make amends, we never see Gen explicitly apologize for attempting to sabotage Peter and Lara Jean's relationship. As a result, Gen's redemption arc is minimized, and her entire exchange with Lara Jean feels stagnant.

It's upsetting to see Lara Jean blame the load of Peter and Gen's collective actions on herself. She deserves better than both of them, and To All the Boys I've Loved Before deserved a better sequel. P.S. I Still Love You is a fine way to kill 90 minutes, but there's nothing profound or thought-provoking about it.

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