Netflix doesn’t like to brag, unless it does. The streaming platform’s famous reluctance to offer up any kind of hard stats somehow fell away with the release of 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — the jewel in their original-rom-com crown that reportedly helped bring in upwards of 80 million viewers, many of them more than once.
Those are monumental numbers for what is essentially YA wish fulfillment; a sweetly featherweight teen dream sprung, as the title infers, from a series of mash notes its protagonist penned to the five biggest crushes of her young life thus far.
What made the first movie more than the sum of its modest parts was the outsize charm of its two stars, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, and the easy naturalism they brought to its boy-meets-girl fantasy: a refreshingly grounded portrayal of adolescence in a realm that tends to lean toward either precocious soap opera or scrubbed-clean family fare. (These kids swear and talk about sex, yes; but higher crimes they leave to all the Pretty Little Riverdales.)
The sequel comes with another advantage, too: Unlike certain small-screen phenomena sprung from novels — see 13 Reasons Why, Big Little Lies — Boys’ source material doesn’t need to be Frankensteined to fit a second or third outing; author Jenny Han has already given readers a trilogy to pull from the page.
P.S. I Still Love You arrives, accordingly, with the cozy sheen of an already-successful franchise, like the Fast & Furious of Gen-Z epistolary romance — all parts pre-assembled and road-ready, with a few jazzy new add-ons.
Lara Jean Covey (Condor) is still the dimpled overachiever who dances in her bedroom and bakes snickerdoodles when she’s in a mood. Except Centineo’s Peter Kavinsky, the doe-eyed jock she only pretended to be dating in a sort of mutual pact of high-school social engineering, has become her boyfriend for real.
Which means they now sincerely do things like go on intimate cacio e pepe dinner dates and release paper lanterns with their initials intertwined into the night sky. But happily ever after, or at least until graduation, is disrupted by a reply to Lara Jean’s last and supposedly lost unrequited-love letter, from a sixth-grade crush named John Ambrose McLaren (Jordan Fisher).
Much like Centineo’s Peter, he’s perfectly adorable in pretty much every way; it takes her gay friend Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro) to point out how absurdly lucky she is to be torn between them, and that her sexuality allows her to be spoiled for choice at all.
It’s one of many small grace notes — like the fact of Fisher’s presence as a love interest of color for Lara Jean, and a sweet scene that finds her and her sister dressing up in traditional Korean hanboks — that nod to inclusion in a way that feels more organic than virtue-signaling.
There’s still a sort of sitcom polish to the script and most of its characters, from Lara Jean’s doting dad (John Corbett) and cheeky baby sister (Anna Cathcart) to the great Holland Taylor as a sort of retirement-home Auntie Mame who mostly exists to serve up afternoon-cocktail sass and wisdom.
Though it also feels like the kind of movie you wish they made more often for all the boys, and girls, still figuring out who they are — especially the ones who don’t tend to see themselves nearly enough on screen: a reflection shinier than real life maybe, but generous and good-hearted to the core. B+