‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,’ an Xennial mash note to 80s teen romances, ended as John Hughes ordained: with the wallflower, Lara Jean (Lana Condor), and the jock, Peter (Noah Centineo), professing their love on a lacrosse field in a climactic shot with enough space in the frame to imagine Judd Nelson strutting by with a fist pump.
Lara Jean swoons over one-off classics like ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’ (even as she concedes Long Duk Dong is “extremely racist”). For viewers like her, Netflix has ordered a triple-scoop franchise based on Jenny Han’s book trilogy, the second of which, ‘PS I Still Love You,’ whips drama from the question Hughes left unanswered: Is this misfit couple really a match?
Who cares, adults may groan. Two per cent of marriages are between high school sweethearts. Yet, to Lara Jean, whom Condor plays with naivete and pluck, pleasing Peter is serious. (As it is to superfans who fell for Centineo two summers ago in the first film, and studio executives who’ve staked their happiness on the young heartthrob’s good looks.) Can she keep her popular Prince Charming — or rather, will she keep choosing him — despite a blitzkrieg of bliss-killers that include his jealous ex-girlfriend (Emilija Baranac), his obsession with the party game called flip cup and Lara Jean’s immature belief that the perfect relationship should be, well, perfect?
Her insecurity matures this sequel from fairy tale to talk therapy. In the hands of the screenwriters Sofia Alvarez and J Mills Goodloe, Lara Jean and her friends don’t banter — they proclaim, as if being deposed by Cupid. It’s unclear if the script’s stolid dialogue is attempting to flatter modern teens, or if the writers just don’t know any. Responding to a friend’s letter, Lara Jean begins, “What lovely penmanship you have.” Forget Billie Eilish — she fancies herself a Bronte.
To the director Michael Fimognari’s credit, ‘PS I Still Love You’ doesn’t condescend to Lara Jean’s dilemma even as her choices deserve popcorn pelted at the screen. Yet, he’s content with a product that seems beamed in from a staticky old channel. Despite Condor’s determination to make Lara Jean feel like a real girl — albeit with distracting false eyelashes — she’s stuck being a clone, opening the film crooning ‘And Then He Kissed Me’ to her bedroom mirror just as Elisabeth Shue did in ‘Adventures in Babysitting.’ Later, when Lara Jean’s loyalty is divided by the reappearance of her sixth-grade crush (Jordan Fisher), an emotionally-attuned dork who, like her, prefers to spend his Saturdays playing bingo, the soundtrack broods with a moody cover of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun.’
How canny to capitalise on a youthful ache to rewind to an era when Molly Ringwald wasn’t forced to worry about school shootings and climate change. (The year Nixon resigned, 1974, TV viewers made a hit out of ‘Happy Days.’) Fimognari, promoted from the job of cinematographer on the first instalment, occasionally cribs a shot from a more ambitious movie: a floating kiss; a pair of snow angels; an argument on a class trip to the aquarium filmed before a tank of bioluminescent jellyfish, recalling a James Bond brawl in ‘Skyfall.’ Mostly, however, the visuals are childish, with saturated tinting that has to be squinted through, as though a lollipop melted on the lens.
Ironically, the film’s best sequences are wish fulfilment for geriatrics. Lara Jean’s retro fixation reaches its peak when she volunteers at Belleview, a retirement home with fortunetellers, posh soirees and a former Pan Am flight attendant named Stormy (Holland Taylor) lording over the palm-frond fantasia like a screwball grande dame. The rooms are art deco, the wardrobes are doo-wop, and the residents groove to the Bee Gees. Pass the prune daiquiris — yes, there are prune daiquiris — and get drunk on nostalgia.
Don’t miss it!
‘To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You’ is streaming on Netflix from February 12. Watch the trailer below: