Levain’s double-chocolate cookies, Magnolia’s chocolate cupcakes: Among friends and family, I’m known as a notorious sugar fiend, a connoisseur of New York’s most seductive cavity-causers. And yet even my mighty sweet tooth has met its match in the form of a cinematic sweetmeat: “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.”
The final installment of the Netflix rom-com (adapted from the book by Jenny Han) about a high school romantic’s secret love letters and her faux-fling-turned-real-thing with a popular jock finds our star couple in their senior year. It’s a seminal time in the life of these teens, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo); there’s a journey to Korea, promposals, college acceptances, a cross-country trip to a beautifully mask-less New York City (where Levain and Magnolia make cameos) and a wedding. Lara Jean and Peter are still going strong and have a plan for college: They’ll both go to Stanford, natch. But when Lara Jean is rejected from Stanford and starts considering the other shapes her future could take, happily ever after gets a bit more complicated.
“This is a little dramatic, even for you,” says Kitty (Anna Cathcart), Lara Jean’s little sister and professional heckler, observing the conflict. But that’s also this trilogy’s modus operandi: Its drama consists of adolescent trifles that never have real stakes, especially in the eyes of those who have left high school far behind. It doesn’t matter if you can see the tiny heartbreaks and grand gestures of love from a thousand miles away. “Always and Forever,” directed by Michael Fimognari with candy-cute sets, distressingly stylish costumes and vivacious cinematography, doesn’t have a hint of cynicism. Like Lara Jean herself, this bright-eyed pubescent lovefest is an earnest romantic, admiring every rote route to “I love you.” (The references to “Say Anything” and “Pride and Prejudice” are almost too much.)
Condor and Centineo are as endearing as ever, like a teenage dream come to life, and both carry their characters’ rocky moments with ease. The main conflict, which is approached with a slow simmer (“Always and Forever” takes its time parading its lovers), sets up our heroine at a crossroads that, if this were another film, might have led to something more profound and surprising. Independence and personal growth vs. prioritizing a relationship at the cost of one’s self: This is the choice when a couple graduates past the little love notes and locker gifts of early infatuation.
“To All the Boys” ultimately gets to have its cake (or, rather, cookies, in Lara Jean’s case) and eat it too, and even at its most saccharine I can’t fault it for committing fully to what it is. I’m no fan of Valentine’s Day unless it’s a heart-shaped confection, but for those who are, “To All the Boys” is a light but satisfying dessert.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. Watch on Netflix.