“Maybe love is actually about the moments when you think no one is watching.”
If P.S. I Love You was a misstep, Always and Forever is a pleasing return to endearing form. With the two sequels shot back-to-back, it suggests the middle entry’s story bears much of the blame. Life — and preparation for the future — proves to be far a more compelling foil to Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship than a romantic rival and petty jealousy. Stretching across their final year of high school, Always and Forever frequently feels like a series of time lapse vignettes rather than a structured story. The spectre of possible college separation looms over the couple, though it is often difficult to tell how far away it is. Fimognari throws in a few impressive cinematographical flourishes, like a Prom preparation scene where the girls are shot from behind, their faces seen only through reflections in small vanity mirrors as they converse. Less succesful is the overly stylised Prom itself, which finds the film rapidly running out of steam before returning to its emotional core.
“I thought I wanted a promise that Peter and I would never hurt each other. I wanted something that doesn’t exist.”
High school drama requires sufficiently charismatic characters that we remain invested in their success even as they invariably make terrible teenage decisions. Unfortunately, the abundant charm of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is mostly absent here. The previous film’s cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, is promoted to directorial duty for the back-to-back sequels but this is his first feature and feels constructed more with a technical eye than an emotional one. Worse, having Lara Jean drawn to another boy almost immediately after starting her first relationship makes it very difficult to care with whom she ends up. The film’s closing message that the goal of a relationship shouldn’t be to avoid ever being hurt is a valid one, but it all ties up too abruptly to feel genuine.
“It’s weird and somewhat off-putting to be congratulated on doing nothing more than accepting a note and having an ass pocket for someone to stick their hand into, but I guess that’s where my life has taken me.”
A derivative but quietly charming high school drama, its unlikely initial premise swiftly falls into a familiar “fake relationship” plot but — despite the lack of surprises — the charismatic leads evoke a genuine desire for them to acknowledge their feelings. The melodrama of high school students may not have changed much in the past few decades, but this is still a fresh update for the modern generation.