To All the Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

“There is nothing worse than nothing feeling chosen.”

The To All the Boys trilogy – rounded out by an excellent and sweet third course – shares a similar trajectory to the many high school romances it ardently attempts to display front and center. True love was first discovered in the refreshing first feature To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, lost a little luster in the second picture, and found a way to course correct with this final entry on the long and hard road of young love. To All the Boys: Always and Forever is an above average movie, a borderline excellent romantic comedy, and a satisfying conclusion to one of the most heartfelt and committed Young Adult series adaptations in years. I’d even go so far as to call it a generational benchmark. The fun and fateful tango bar has been set for years to come.

Fresh off of 2020’s strong yet minor setback P.S. I Still Love You and its choice to literally end by kissing and making up, Always and Forever finds Lara Jean (Lana Condor, exuding bona fide star power) and her family exploring Seoul during Senior year spring break. Dr. Covey (John Corbett) is accompanied by his serious girlfriend Trina (Sarayu Blue), the youngest Kitty (Anna Cathcart) discovers boys, and the eldest Margot (Janel Parrish) gets unfairly thrown on the backburner as the five happily do some sightseeing and plenty of eating. Back home is Peter (Noah Centineo), anxiously awaiting the return of his beloved LJ. Peter’s been accepted to Stanford on a lacrosse scholarship and Lara Jean crosses her fingers that a shared college experience will be the next chapter in their love story. But this is real life and not some fairy tale (even if the deeply saturated colors disguise it as such), where things don’t always go the way you wish, and the film forces its characters to make definitive decisions. To choose a place to dine when a fork in the road presents itself. That’s the way reality works.

They warmly embrace. Smile and kiss. Imagine their future and even boldly consider testing the carefully curated time constraints of nightly curfews. I’m sure most who’ve ever experienced a sincere high school relationship like this one can deeply relate, and for those who didn’t – or up to this point have not yet – Always and Forever presents a lovable and endearing couple we root for guilt free and manage to see ourselves in no matter our relationship status. Condor and Centineo exude shockingly real chemistry, and the way they look at each other as actors sells the entire rest of the film. The drama here is manufactured to make us feel a certain way, but when actors of this caliber exchange glances with this much warmth and honesty, it carries over to every other aspect of the picture. They are a conduit, and, I truly believe, this generation’s iconic rom-com duo. They’re the King and the Queen.

There’s an unabashed adaroration for the characters penned by novelist Jenny Han and lovingly adapted by Katie Lovejoy, even if some of the background cast are unfairly relegated to filling the many roles of broad stereotypes without much to do besides loiter about between scenes. Yet there’s a delicate touch, embellished by the many theatrics to the way Michael Fimognari directed and shaped the tone of the film. It’s funny and dramatic, chaotic and cool, and so deeply invested in the lost artform of the written word while maintaining a current approach to dating and romance (which is yet again another example I thankfully graduated High School prior to grand Prom proposals becoming a thing). This will renew old memories, stir current ones, and inspire those yet to transpire.

Most of all though, Always and Forever serves as a sort of unspoken set of vows between unwed partners, both wisely recognizing that people change with time and experience. That we can fall in love with places as easily as we do people. And that if we’re lucky enough and open enough, we can invite someone who can discern the difference, and who’s able to fall for different versions of the same true love over and over, time and time again. Always and Forever. That’s what I think love should be. This final entry, while fictional, shows it’s really possible if you choose the one who’s willing to choose you, to extend beyond merely accepting the love you think you deserve, and the trilogy is brilliantly summed up by Leah Nobel’s original song, “Beginning Middle End.” Its imperfectly perfect postmark leaves a deep impression, and justifies the old adage that distance makes the heart grow fonder. I for one can attest of late. I’m sure countless others can as well.

“I couldn’t leave without writing you.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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