The Hidden Angle | 'To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You's charm wears off in the face of scattered allure
The follow up to the 2018 hit Netflix rom-com 'To All the boys I've Loved Before' is not as charming, eschewing relatibility with cheesy set-ups
Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) became a phenomenon in the Summer of 2018 for two things -- saving a bowl of popcorn and falling in love with a Japanese yogurt drink -- in 'To All the Boys I've Loved Before'. Noah Centineo as Kavinsky oozed charm and with two simple moves, he also captured hearts for being relatable.
The follow-up sacrificed this relatability and uses cheesy set ups to drive the film to a larger extent. The scenes that do warm our hearts are few and far in between and while that can be frustrating for people who loved the slice of life treatment, what is worse, and should be considered a crime is the way the film traded this relatability to bring in an element that is on the other end of the spectrum -- cheesy moments that make you cringe at how unreal all of it is.
The film begins with Lara Jean Covey dancing to a song 'Then He Kissed Me' that was featured in the 1987 film 'Adventures of Babysitting'. Just as Elisabeth Shue danced and lip-synced to the song in the film, Lara Jean does too, because she is excited about her official first date with Peter. It's fun to watch her dance to the song and if you have read the book, you would have expected her first date to be a movie together and fried chicken later. Simple, yet charming. however, the film switched this to a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant. We also see Lara Jean feeling anxious all the time, now that she is dating Peter for real.
While we understand the anxiety, considering this is Lara Jean's first real experience of dating, the way that anxiety is portrayed is disturbing. For instance, when Lara Jean hopes at being a good girlfriend she expresses it as if it is a job that she wants to do well. Her struggle to have the perfect relationship is understandable but the portrayal of her insecurity doesn't do justice to the Lara Jean that we have come to know and love.
An emotion well-portrayed connects with you, but this moment just alienates us and is disappointing. The one moment that does portray her insecurities is when Peter and Lara Jean share a passionate kiss in his truck. In the beginning, she is with him at the moment, but then her brain reminds her that she is inexperienced at this, while Peter isn't. This moment of insecurity is the best scene in the film.
Peter's charming character, including his thoughtfulness, goes under the microscope after Lara Jean meets her middle school crush, John Ambrose. She hears about Peter from him, his version of his best friend, and seems like it was purely orchestrated to burn holes in Peter's almost perfect persona. The fact that he always eats the last slice of pizza, or the last muffin, for instance, doesn't align too well with the boy who picks a flower from the bouquet he got for his girlfriend for her little sister. If we do not see some kind of flaw in Peter, would we have blamed Lara Jean for her feelings for John Ambrose? Was it really necessary to add something contrary like this, when just revealing the truth about who Peter was waiting for in the hot tub would have been enough to add the atmospheric conflict that the film needed?
You might wonder the two are different. While the former is set up to ensure that Lara Jean continues to be a figure who can be empathized with, the latter is an incident that would have put Lara Jean's conflicted feelings about John Ambrose in the grey area. After all, when Peter was waiting in the jacuzzi in the first film, he and Lara Jean were not really dating. Now, however, the two are dating and Lara Jean's feeling for John Ambrose would be morally incorrect.
Now, coming to the most frustrating bit of the film -- the romance is cheesy enough to make one barf. The entire first date sequence complete with Lara Jean and Peter wishing for a relationship that doesn't leave them with broken hearts is not quite romantic. While the promise itself is important for us to understand how unprepared Lara Jean and Peter are for a serious relationship, the whole hot air balloon thing after Italian dinner just didn't work.
You know what does work when it comes to the romance column in the film, it is the subplot of Lara Jean's father being attracted to a neighbor and being invited to a family dinner called 'Fakesgiving', which is something that Lara Jean's mother came up with when she was dating their father in high school.
Peter is invited too and as Lara Jean and Kitty explain the story behind Fakesgiving, we see a bit of the emotion that the first film had encapsulated so beautifully. And relatability? That comes across unfiltered when Lara Jean's insecurities put a damper on an otherwise passionate moment.
‘The Hidden Angle’ is a weekly column examining narratives, frames and sounds that add value to movies and shows but are not part of conversations surrounding their success or failure. The column will be published every Friday.