‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever’ falls flat

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Spoilers ahead.

Following in suit with the series’ declining excitement, the final installment of the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy, “Always and Forever” fell short, concluding on an unsurprising note.

Its predecessor, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” ended with Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) choosing to reunite with boyfriend Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) over John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), a recipient of one of her love letters. 

“Always and Forever,” released earlier this month, picks up with Lara Jean as she returns from a spring break trip to Seoul, Korea and begins thinking about her future. She and Peter have made plans to attend Stanford together (because that’s totally something you could plan out). In this fictional, coronavirus-free world, Peter joins the Stanford Class of 2025 as a lacrosse player, excited to attend college with his girlfriend — only, Lara Jean doesn’t get in. 

The film follows Lara Jean throughout her senior year of high school as she deals with the possibility of not going to college with Peter. She struggles to decide between attending UC Berkeley, in order to stay close to Peter, and attending NYU, the school she really likes. Peter’s assurances that she could transfer to Stanford after their first year (because that’s very easy to do) only add to her stress, and the dilemma causes a rift in their relationship.

The high school sweethearts’ situation is all too similar to the plot of  “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” where Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez struggle with the possibility of parting ways after graduation. Even its details — like one main character attending Stanford and the other considering Berkeley — are very similar to the ones in “High School Musical 3.” Though lacking originality, this third installment does decently portray its Stanford plot points. The inclusion of actual reaction videos from current students and Stanford admits is a nice touch. Throughout the film, Peter constantly reps Cardinal — excitement that is both nostalgic and a little cringey. And while the application portal through which Lara Jean checks her admission status is not the real thing, it’s a modest attempt. 

However, these modest attempts often miss the mark. The word “Stanford” appears 25 times in the screenplay; because Stanford is oddly and unnecessarily central to the film, the writers could have been more intentional with their descriptions and portrayals of The Farm. The stickers and pennants on Peter’s car can be found at the bookstore; however, the tree hat cannot. Including “All Right Now” is an artful addition to the film; however, this would have felt more genuine if the song had actually been performed by LSJUMB.

Other inaccuracies range from crucial to trivial. Lara Jean says she’s planning on majoring in English literature; Stanford does not have an English literature major, though its English department does offer a concentration in literature. More importantly, Stanford has no men’s varsity lacrosse team, so Peter’s scholarship to play the sport doesn’t add up. And then there are the smaller missteps that only Stanford students would notice: People don’t ride their bikes and hold hands, as Lara Jean imagines. At the beginning of the film, Peter discusses “the library” with Lara Jean but never mentions a specific one. Could he have been referencing Green? Mention of a specific library would have been a more thoughtful move.

Aside from the college admissions saga, plotlines occurring outside of the central story — such as the wedding of Lara Jean’s father and the senior trip to New York City — enhance the uncertainty Lara Jean feels as her senior year of high school comes to an end. The timeline of the film revolves around these events, making the story feel headed in a conclusive direction and helping to capture the high school experience. Their inclusion adds to the sense of impermanence and stress that lingers during senior year of high school: While Lara Jean is set to move on to her future, the past she leaves behind (her family, home, etc.) will not remain constant.

Despite shortcomings in authenticity, the film’s cinematography is interesting because it preserves the aesthetic of the trilogy. The maintenance of Lara Jean’s aesthetic in particular is pleasing to the eye — especially in her room, where the blue tone dominates. Her baking scene extends the effect through the softer blue tones of the kitchenware, and the film and larger trilogy’s trichromatic emphasis on blue, red and yellow adds to its visual appeal. Another striking scene, in which Lara Jean returns home and enters a sketched living room that fades into the real thing, pays homage to the overall chocolate-box aesthetic of the films — evidence in this scene’s subtle filter, used to soften the image, as well as the “cute” style across the film’s animations and Lara Jean’s fashions.

Ultimately, though, the “To All the Boys” saga landed on a flat conclusion, consistent with its declining momentum. The unoriginal premise made it challenging to finish watching the third film. And because the two leads remain together even as they continue on their own paths — kind of (actually) like Troy and Gabriella — the teenage coming-of-age trope of leaving for college and leaving a partner behind does not resonate.

In short, “Always and Forever” dragged out the trilogy’s conclusion to a cliched ending, essentially revealed in its trailer. 

This article originally stated that Stanford has no varsity lacrosse team. It has been updated to reflect the fact that there is a women’s team, just not a men’s one. The Daily apologizes for this error.

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Rosana is an Arts & Life Contributing Writer and a News Staff Writer from La Puente, CA. She enjoys a good hike and is her dog’s biggest fan. The SoCal native misses playing the alto saxophone and looks forward to someday watching the Dodgers (in-person) win another World Series game. Contact her at rmaris 'at' stanforddaily.com.