Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

to all the boys ps i still love you indexThe perfect film for a parent and adolescent to bond over (or at least start talks about necessary learnings about relationships and adulthood).

We all have our own way of sifting through choices. The downside of having too many of them is that sometimes there isn’t enough ‘decision making energy’ to go around in a day…or a week…to rate all our Netflix titles. I used to do a 20 minute timer and move on, but now with the volume I need to tackle whenever I’m on a streaming service, I’ve amended that strategy to jump right into an interaction scene. That is how I decided on watching this one. I know I’ll likely miss out on titles that might be a fit, but so far the results have been great. I found ‘Candy Jar’, ‘Giri/Haji‘, and even got a chance to reconsider ‘Sicario‘ (I usually skip ‘MA’ films) using this strategy.

The Setup: Our protagonist gets her ‘happily ever after’. We pick up from ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ where Peter (Noah Centineo) and Lara Jean (Lana Condor) end their fake relationship and decide to be in a real one. There’s even a nod to the main plot points when LJ’s younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) gives a recap to Haven (Julie Tao) during a visit to their grandparents for Seollal (Korean New Year).

The Inciting Incident: John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher) shows up at Belleview. As a direct result of the inciting incident of #1 (Kitty mailing all 5 of LJ’s letters), the middle Covey sister has to deal with the letter she wrote to John Ambrose. Not just the embarrassment that came with him receiving what she wrote in the first place, but the fact that he writes back. Our protagonist attempts to embrace social cues (the one where a person has to acknowledge something that has been said) but struggles to keep things neutral. Of course the agony that comes with that (and her mentioning to Peter that a person she used to have strong feelings for has written back after receiving her letter declaring how she felt) isn’t enough to push our story into gear. Said ‘option’ has to show up.

The Stakes: Being able to be in a reliable, consistent relationship. When a child experiences trauma (in the case of Lara Jean, her mother passed away), there is no choice but to deal with it later in life, as it eventually manifests itself (like the reluctance of getting into a committed relationship). In a way, LJ is lucky that she was able to have it out with the person she eventually commits to. Other people aren’t so lucky and become emotionally unavailable for years and years to the frustration of first, second, third, or even fourth spouses.

I’m not sure if I’ll review the first one in the trilogy (IMDB notes that the third one is coming out), but I did end up watching it after this. I already made a first pass at it (and already marked it as a ‘thumbs down’), and thought that I might have just lucked out and watched the wrong scene. The one thing I like with digital streaming, is the capacity for bookmarks. So I know that the scene was was LJ’s field fantasy — during the opening minutes. You could think that I wasn’t just watching the right scene for me (the best scene). Again, I turn to the show I consider a masterpiece: ‘Homeland‘. If I had watched the first season as it aired, I’m not sure I would be able to be as open to it compared to starting with Season 2 (to which a bulk of the episodes are ‘M’ rather than ‘MA’). I’m going to translate that to these two films: I have a feeling that if I did watch the first one, I might not be as open, compared to how things transpired.

Interestingly, a similar thing happened with another film from the same (Awesomeness) production company: Ry Russo-Young’s ‘Before I Fall‘. I actually watched it thinking it was something else (definitely not a film about High Schoolers!) and eventually became open to it. Compared to me wondering what Sam and Kent in their 40’s would be like, I just found myself being understanding to what each character is going through. If this is the production company that would be building their brand on tracking the lives of fictional adolescents, I think the future of the genre is in good hands.

Comedic Moments:

  • Before starting a new chapter in your life, it might help if you showered first.
  • How to express your annoyance, but not being totally mean: undo the bow of another Hanbok wearer.
  • Oreos are in high demand in Belleview
  • Kitty: The Well-Intentioned Meddler
  • Chris (Madeleine Arthur) attempts to wink

Just like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, I would have been interested how Mr. and Mrs. Covey crossed paths and how Dan (I don’t think John’s character was ever referred to by name — but somehow the captions give the answer) managed to win over her family (I noticed that he also bows to them during the visit for Seollal). This feels a bit like what would have happened if Toula passed away and Ian was missing her terribly. I was initially puzzled with the ‘two first names’ thing and eventually John Ambrose does tell our protagonist why. It’s probably heaps better (depending on your perspective of course) than the reason Ian gives Toula why he is drawn to her.

I think my favourite part was when there were montages of food and cooking. Yes, Peter and LJ get their own montage too. Then there’s all these writeups about both the book and the film inspiring teens to lean more towards dating guys who are open and thoughtful (to the point of bringing snacks when you are faced with a long drive). I’m not sure that I would agree about this being of a lower quality compared to the first. But if you’re going to compare the two films based on the amount of comedy, the first one definitely has more ‘com’ than ‘rom’, while the second has more of the latter (I did like the playfulness in making Imaginary Peter cheekier than the real one). I thought it was odd to change the tone when the first one worked quite well. Even if both sides haven’t dug deeper on the source of what draws them together, I feel like it’s because they have a playful connection (both pushing the other out of their comfort zones in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’) which Peter wonders about during Fakesgiving, when Dan shares how Evie teased him relentlessly. Since we only have Dad’s description to go with, I’m assuming that LJ’s version is scaled back compared to her mother.

One of my favourite readings of a ‘Modern Love’ piece was by Jake Gyllenhaal. In ‘Nursing A Wound‘, Tom Hooven writes about the importance of building relationships that can withstand daily rigours that is required of strong committed relationships. Though Lara Jean doesn’t implicitly point this out, I thought her recognising the bond between people (even exes) is something to be cherished and not to be threatened by. There’s also the point to be made that Peter doesn’t get upset that his girlfriend is spending significant time with a ‘what if’ (someone who was a viable relationship option but somehow events just haven’t lined up to make happen). Despite the disappointments, I am hoping that the target audience have their own epiphanies on how to ‘level up’ their relationship. Rather than avoiding arguments, it’s about learning to resolve them respectfully.

It’s probably quite rare for me to wonder how a film makes me feel. I mean, yes, in general I have to have some sort of an affinity towards it, but after reading an interview with Jenny Han, I found myself considering more ‘feel’ subsets. Generally I do want to feel like I’ve invested my time well. I’m not sure about feeling warm and fluffy about a film. Because if I did, I probably would want to keep watching that, because my brain would have wanted the kind endorphin rush I received from the first viewing. So, I’m more of a ‘I’d like to take action’ kind of viewer. Which is why the whole approach of doing commentary (via timestamp or normally) or writing pieces like this is necessary in moving forward (of course its much better if I get an idea for the next track title which usually snowballs into me recording the music to accompany it).

I know it’s not easy to find something to helps you connect with the handful of adolescents you’re responsible for. Whether you had your kids fairly early like Wade Felton (Walton Goggins) in ‘The Unicorn’ or much later like LJ’s dad (John Corbett was pushing 60 when the film was released last year) you won’t be trying to stave off a migraine or picture yourself trying to claw your brains out (so you can put it aside and just keep looking blankly at the screen) in an effort to try to connect with the child you have guardianship over.

Leigh Lim.
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