Netflix’s ‘To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You’ Captures the Insecurities of Young Love
Netflix’s “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” explores a theme familiar to both teenagers and adults. It’s about that moment when a relationship officially leaves the honeymoon phase and insecurities begin to cast their intrusive presence. This is a continuation of the story first established in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and both are taken from Jenny Han’s trilogy of young adult novels. Han’s books and the films are a refreshingly mature take on high school life and those first stirrings of romance. A note, holding hands and especially a kiss can mean life or death. For this chapter jealousy becomes a tricky maze to get through.
Lara Jean (Lana Condor) is now officially the girlfriend of kind-hearted jock Peter (Noah Centineo), following the events of the last movie where all her secret love letters were mailed out to their subjects by Lara’s little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart). Everything appears to be going well and blissfully, but soon Lara learns that being in a relationship comes with new, complicated worries. One of her letter recipients, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), suddenly replies and Lara wonders if she should tell Peter she feels compelled to write back. There’s also a creeping insecurity in Lara about dating a popular guy at school. She’s aware he’s been with other girls, feels particularly unsure around his ex Gen (Emilija Baranac) and lingers over how many experiences are firsts for her, while he’s already done them with previous girlfriends. Once Lara discovers she and John are working in the same house the situation becomes even more complicated.
“To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” lacks the more despairing, recent visions of Gen Z life. It’s colored in light textures and the soundtrack even goes back to oldies like The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me.” Where it gets out of a comfortable zone is in allowing Lana to have her first experiences with jealousy and coping with the fact that a first boyfriend might already have past relationships. Directing is Michael Fimognari, who was the cinematographer in the original film and is adept at making this material feel lively. Fimognari recently spoke with Entertainment Voice about the making of “To All the Boys” and returning to high school.
“I was cinematographer on the first movie and really enjoyed it, what a fantastic experience and the world that Jenny Han has written in the books and what the actors did to create a very special couple was a blast to see. So being able to return was an easy choice,” said Fimognari, “it’s been also a joy to see and experience what Lara goes through in her entire arc. What Jenny has created from the first book through the third is a special coming of age story that is also empowering for young people who are struggling with their thoughts on love and romantic relationships.”
The charm of “To All the Boys” is how it takes on the point of view of a misty-eyed teen. When Lana hears back from John it drops like an atom bomb and she must grapple with having a boyfriend but knowing deep down about being curious regarding the other option. “There’s a grounded tone to it. It’s accessible and enjoyable because of what the actors do.” Lana Condor finds a new maturity in her role. During the first film she was the high schooler anticipating the experience of having a boyfriend, in this new chapter she’s in a relationship and endures the hardship of making compromises, facing fears and realizing even a loving partner can inspire a fight. Like the more admirable YA fiction it takes teenage life seriously. No one’s dumbed down, just naïve. “Jenny Han was so supportive and was a part of it all the way through.” said Fimognari, “the books were always a compass for me. Every time I needed a little comfort or a little booster or council, Jenny Han’s voice was able to communicate fully. She’s always there. I could call her or text her and send a thought. She was supportive of the concept of the film as its own thing. I’ve experienced this before working with other stories, as a cinematographer, where I’ve been a witness to writer/directors trying to adapt something that worked on the page but not so well on the big screen. So Jenny’s very understanding of that process, she wants to have the story intention of the book to be received by the viewer. We had many talks about that, about what was right. We were a team. That film is very much about designing a world that is true to the book but where it needed to feel right for the movie we made sure everybody could feel good. What’s special about Jenny is that she cares about the details too. I had a fantastic day with her walking through Koreatown in Los Angeles just shopping for props. I got to go through the shops with Jenny and choose fabrics.”
There are moments in “To All the Boys” that have a tinge of nostalgia for a viewer of any age because of the way it spends its time with Lara and other students in cafeteria halls and bleachers, where someone might show you a picture of your boyfriend appearing to hug someone else. “I love it,” said Fimognari about evoking high school via film. “I’ve always loved these kinds of stories. I’m also a fan of the same movies Lara Jean loves like ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Breakfast Club.’ Those films take their characters seriously. Their traumas are real and just as important and full of anxiety as a 40-year-old who might be going through a tough experience. The cast is so good at being true to their characters and not playing a type and not just trying to behave in the way high schoolers are ‘supposed’ to behave.”
“To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” has a romantic soul at its core free of cynicism, but still aware that learning to be with someone can be hard work at any age. Fimognari is now working on the third part of Han’s trilogy, which will throw new dilemmas and life changes Lara’s way, such as college. “We all love and lose and the pain of that is real, and the joy of finding someone who you really care about is real too. We want to celebrate that.”
“To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” begins streaming Feb. 12 on Netflix.