Review: 'To All The Boys: Always And Forever' : Pop Culture Happy Hour In 2018, To All The Boys I've Loved Before was a breakout hit for Netflix. Based on Jenny Han's novel, it followed Lara Jean Covey through the adventure of falling in love with one Peter Kavinsky. A sequel followed in 2020 and now, it's time for the finale, which finds Lara Jean and Peter dealing with the complication of graduating and heading off to college.
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Lara Jean Says Goodbye In 'To All The Boys: Always And Forever'

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Lara Jean Says Goodbye In 'To All The Boys: Always And Forever'

Lara Jean Says Goodbye In 'To All The Boys: Always And Forever'

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

In 2018, "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" was a breakout hit for Netflix. Based on Jenny Han's YA rom-com, it followed Lara Jean Song Covey through the adventure of falling in love with one Peter Kavinsky. But there are three books about Lara Jean, so a sequel followed in 2020, and now it's time for the finale. "To All The Boys: Always And Forever" finds Lara Jean and Peter dealing with the complication of graduating and heading off to college.

I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "To All The Boys: Always And Forever" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. So don't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: Welcome back. Joining me from her home in San Antonio, Texas, we have writer Kiana Fitzgerald.

Hey, Kiana.

KIANA FITZGERALD: Howdy, Linda.

HOLMES: And also joining us for his POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR debut is features writer for New York Magazine and Vulture, E. Alex Jung.

Hi, Alex.

E ALEX JUNG: Hello, hello.

HOLMES: I can't believe we've never had you on the show before. I'm so delighted that we were able to do this.

So as I mentioned at the top, these books by Jenny Han are very popular. The films have been very popular, too. Lana Condor plays Lara Jean. Noah Centineo plays Peter Kavinsky. Also in the cast is John Corbett, who has sort of worked his way over the years from scruffy young fella in the "Northern Exposure" days to loving father - he plays Lara Jean's wise, widowed dad, who in this movie, by the way, is about to be remarried himself. And in addition to his wedding, the story covers Lara Jean's decision about where to go to college after Peter decides to go to Stanford. She wants to go there, too, but first she has to get in. Plus, there's a trip to New York that affects her the way it sometimes affects people who go to New York for the first time. And she finds herself thinking about what it would mean to go all the way across the country, away from her boyfriend and her family.

Kiana, I know you have seen the first two movies in this series. How did this one strike you?

FITZGERALD: This one was in the same universe of magical love.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

FITZGERALD: It's such a lovely series, in my opinion. I really enjoyed it, even though I did (laughter) - I'm not going to lie. As I watched each of the movies over again for this podcast taping, I realized that I have massive anxiety when it comes to the breakup-to-make-up-to-make-up-to-break-up that they're constantly, like, fluctuating through. So I didn't watch all of the movies from front to back in each sitting, but I did come back to them, and I did finish them.

So overall, I mean, it's a lovely, lovely experience. I'm so happy for Lara Jean and for Peter because I feel like, for many people, myself included, relationships are - like, they're roller coasters. And, you know, I just, you know, had my first relationship experience at 31 years old. So I'm, like, kind of seeing myself in a mirror in some respects of Lara Jean panicking because she wants to be the perfect girlfriend, because she doesn't know how to be the perfect girlfriend, but she's going to try her hardest. You know, it was a big moment of reflection for me in a lot of ways. So I thought it was super cute, and it just kind of made me want to fall in love all over again.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know, it's a tough thing when you deal with a high school romance, and then you have to deal with the obvious fact that everyone will eventually leave high school.

FITZGERALD: Yeah (laughter).

HOLMES: And sort of this little - I think particularly the first movie, it's - you know, high school is, like, this little fishbowl where the relationship is able to kind of - or maybe more like a terrarium is what I want to say, where, like, it's able to develop in this kind of very, like, specific environment, and then you know that eventually they're going to leave that environment. Alex, tell me about your experience of this movie.

JUNG: It is what it is, and it's a lovely, Instagram-friendly, higher-production-budget way that you expect from the third film of a trilogy, I think.

HOLMES: Yeah.

JUNG: I liked that there wasn't the intrusion of, like, another love triangle or, in that sense, the second suitor would be New York City and NYU in particular.

HOLMES: Right, right.

JUNG: Like, that makes sense. And that is very high school - right? - that they will have to leave this terrarium that they've been romancing in and courting in, and the real world has to exist, and they have to make choices that are more adultlike or that will enable them to become adults. And I thought that that was, like, a really smart way of making it - creating tension in the relationship, which is what they obviously needed, while making it feel like a very mundane problem that every high-schooler almost inevitably experiences.

HOLMES: Yeah. Well, and the decision about leaving home and potentially moving, you know, across the country to New York is not just about leaving her boyfriend. It's also because she's very close with her sisters and her dad and her friends, and so she would also be, you know, leaving those people - although, of course, potentially meeting new people.

And one of the things that I think is so interesting about this story - and Jenny Han has been very involved in the making of these movies, as well as the - having written the books. One of the things that I like about this story is that I think she was trying to - you know, on the one hand, it's a romance, and you want the romance to survive. And on the other hand, I think she was trying to avoid the kind of very maybe, like, television-high-school-show solution where everyone just magically is like, it turns out the best program in the country is at Hometown U.

JUNG: (Laughter).

HOLMES: And so everybody goes to Hometown U together - which is, A, not very realistic and, B, not necessarily a very happy ending. Like, if you watched "Beverly Hills 90210."

FITZGERALD: (Laughter).

HOLMES: You know, somebody deciding - well, you know, I decided not to go to Yale and to go to California University. That can be a perfectly good decision. But if the reason is, like, really to keep the person in town with everyone else, that's not necessarily - like, she should have gone to Yale, Andrea (ph).

JUNG: (Laughter).

HOLMES: I think she's trying to balance - like, you want a good ending that serves - that potentially serves the romance, but also really respects the fact that when Lara Jean goes to New York - and I think a lot of people have this experience when they go to New York - all of a sudden they're like, oh, I could do this; like, at least for a while, maybe I want to do this.

JUNG: I mean, yeah, no, I certainly felt that way when I first visited New York. I was like, oh - it felt like a rightness in my bones, where I understood that I fit here more or that this was a place that I wanted to explore. And I think in some ways, actually, foregrounding it with the trip to Seoul was really helpful in that sense...

HOLMES: Yes.

JUNG: ...Because Seoul is a bustling metropolis and has way more in common with New York than it would Portland. You know, so, like, her going on that experience, seeing that there's this whole other world out there, I think that provided good foregrounding before when she went to New York and felt maybe a similar kind of jolt.

HOLMES: Yeah, I agree. I think starting with that trip with her family to Seoul is when she really starts to kind of think about herself relative to the larger world.

Kiana, I want to talk a little bit about the ending that they do choose. So if you want to be surprised, feel free to step out here. So in the end, you know, after kind of going through a hole, she tells Peter she got into Stanford, even though she didn't. But that gets resolved, I think, pretty quickly. I was glad that didn't linger for too long.

FITZGERALD: Yeah, same.

HOLMES: Ultimately, she decides to go to New York, to go to NYU. But they also end it on this note of confidence that she has that the relationship - she feels, as a high school senior, that the relationship will survive all of this. How did you feel about that ending, Kiana?

FITZGERALD: Throughout the series, we see that L.J. is very much in a mindset of, like, unsuredness (ph) and not really knowing, like, the decision that she wants to make, not knowing when to speak up and not knowing when to be honest all the time. So when she told Peter that she wanted to go to NYU, it was, like, very, like, on-point and direct. And I was like, wait, is this really happening? Like, is this - is she imagining this?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO ALL THE BOYS: ALWAYS AND FOREVER")

LANA CONDOR: (As Lara Jean) I want to go to NYU. And I know that's not what we planned, but they have an amazing lit program. And I really feel like I belong there, Peter. And I'm afraid that I'm going to regret it if I don't go.

FITZGERALD: So I was just taken aback that she actually was that forthright in telling him about it. So I think that kind of was a precursor for me into understanding how she ended up ultimately making her decision to go to NYU. So I was floored, but I was also so happy for her because she chose herself. And, you know, for a couple of movies now, she's kind of been torn between who she wants to be for other people and who she wants to be individually. And it was just, you know, a breath of fresh air to just see her, you know, like, in the window, looking out at the campus and just being like, this is where I want to be. So, yeah, I really appreciated the ending.

HOLMES: Yeah. How about you, Alex? What'd you think?

JUNG: You know, she's a romantic.

FITZGERALD: (Laughter).

JUNG: So I believe that she believes they'll make it (laughter).

HOLMES: Yeah, me too, me too. And you have to watch it and you have to think, like, I don't know very many high school students who could make that work, but there are some. Like, it has happened.

JUNG: Sure.

HOLMES: It happens rarely, but it has happened. And I think, like, one of the things - you know, they spend a certain amount of time in this movie and in the other movies kind of talking in a meta kind of way about how romantic comedies work and how romantic movies work. And it's like, on the one hand, you know, you can sort of say, well, you know, it's not necessarily very realistic for her to think that this is going to last, based on - like, statistically, it doesn't seem likely.

But, like, what's the other ending, right? Like, what's the other ending that would feel remotely true to what I think they have tried to do with these films and with this story about this character, right? Would it feel more true if she said, I'm going to go to Stanford? No. Or Berkeley, you know, since she doesn't get into Stanford. Would it feel more truthful if she stayed close and gave up wanting to go to New York and said, well, I want my - you know, I want to be close to the people that I'm close to? That wouldn't necessarily be satisfying, either, and it definitely wouldn't be satisfying if they broke up because that's not how it works.

FITZGERALD: (Laughter) Yeah, what are we committing all this time for?

HOLMES: Exactly. So this is sort of like - this is sort of the ending that you naturally come to. But I do appreciate the fact that, you know, they try to respect all those threads. I also do want to talk about a couple other things, one of which is - I feel like this is also a really nice film for Anna Cathcart, who plays Kitty, her younger sister.

JUNG: Yes.

FITZGERALD: (Laughter).

HOLMES: You don't see a lot of - her older sister Margot, who's played by Janel Parrish. You don't get a ton of her. But you do get quite a bit of Kitty, who is the younger sister. And it's funny because in the first movie, even though it's only three years ago, Kitty is sort of this, like - you know, she's like the little squirt sister. And here you really see, I think, Anna Cathcart growing into this kind of dryer comic actress in a way that I thought was really impressive.

JUNG: Oh, yeah, I totally agree. I mean, I was charmed by her in the first film, though.

HOLMES: Right.

JUNG: You know, like, you could see that she had that zippiness down. And it is good to see when a child actor continues and grows and is able to sort of maintain that level of assuredness because sometimes, you're not sure if it's just, like, you know, they're young and they don't really know what's happening. You know, there is that element with a child actor.

HOLMES: They're cute, yeah.

JUNG: Right, exactly. But she was great. She, like, knocked it out of the park. She was better than some other people in the movie (laughter).

HOLMES: I think she's great in this. I think she's really funny in it. I think she's really, like - you know, they have a little bit of her kind of getting interested in a boy and meeting a boy while they're in Seoul. And I think that it's always good for somebody in a romantic comedy to have a family as well as a - you know, a romantic interest. You never want the love story to be the whole story.

But we want to know what you think about "To All The Boys: Always And Forever." You can find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh.

That brings us to the end of our show. Kiana and Alex, thank you so much for being here.

JUNG: Thank you.

FITZGERALD: Thank you so much for having me.

HOLMES: And one last thing before we go - we are going to be talking about the show "King Of The Hill," and we want to hear your questions. You can send a voice memo with your question to pchh@npr.org. Again, send a voice memo with your question to pchh@npr.org. And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all tomorrow, when we'll be talking about Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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