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‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever’ feels like a warm hug

Despite U.Va erasure, the Netflix original is a sweet wrap-up to the high school romance

<p>Adorned with all of the classic moments — prom, graduation and an epic romance — Lara Jean’s story is ready to join the canon of classic 21st century high school romantic comedies.</p>

Adorned with all of the classic moments — prom, graduation and an epic romance — Lara Jean’s story is ready to join the canon of classic 21st century high school romantic comedies.

“To All the Boys: Always and Forever” premiered Feb. 12 on Netflix. It is the third installation in the movie series based on Jenny Han’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” books. A quintessentially high school finale exuding warmth, the film wraps up Lara Jean and Peter’s love story with a candy-colored bow.

The film stars Lana Condor as sweet homebody Lara Jean and Noah Centineo as popular golden boy Peter Kavinsky. The unlikely pair began their romance in 2018’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” after Lara Jean’s old love letters were mailed out and a fake dating scheme ensued. The third film picks up with Lara Jean and Peter as an established happy couple enjoying their senior year. They have the perfect plan for the future — to attend Stanford together, Peter on his lacrosse scholarship and Lara Jean on her academic merits — until Lara Jean gets a rejection letter from the school. Suddenly, she has to grapple with choosing a new path — and figuring out how Peter will fit into it. 

The plot — though not quite as dynamic as its predecessors — was fitting for a final installation. Despite much of the first 30 minutes revolving around a silly misunderstanding about whether Lara Jean got into Stanford or not, the central conflict offers depth as Lara Jean grapples not only with the future of her relationship, but her future as an individual. However, the plot isn’t the main draw of the movie.

Ultimately, this movie is about the world of Lara Jean. It’s about the characters — wrapping up their stories and sending them out into the world. It’s one last visit to the cozy Covey home, the dreamy color palette, the adorable outfits. Like a warm hug, it welcomes viewers back into Lara Jean’s sweet family and relationship. The one hour and fifty-five minutes felt like one big pastel-colored montage of happy times — with some strife sprinkled in every once in a while. It is exactly the warm, light and smile-inducing fare that attracted fans to the series in the first place. It even includes a few easter eggs and warmhearted full-circle moments referring back to earlier movies.

Like most book-to-screen adaptations, certain moments were lost in translation. The only truly disappointing detail changed from the book was the University of Virginia erasure. In Jenny Han’s novels, the story takes place in Charlottesville, and Lara Jean and Peter dream of going to the University together. In the movie, Charlottesville is replaced with Portland, Ore., and the University is replaced with Stanford. Lara Jean didn’t apply to a single in-state school and pinned all of her hopes and dreams on attending one of the most selective schools in the country, which had a 5.2% acceptance rate last year. Obvious personal bias aside, this change felt like a missed opportunity to feature public colleges. There's more than enough media glorifying expensive top-20 private schools like Stanford — it’s time to normalize in-state colleges in film. Replacing the book’s more realistic options of the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and William & Mary with Stanford, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley just perpetuates the glamorization of overpriced out-of-state institutions. 

Adorned with all of the classic moments — prom, graduation and an epic romance — Lara Jean’s story is ready to join the canon of classic 21st century high school romantic comedies. However, in the context of the film’s release — a global pandemic — a field trip to New York City, prom and graduation feel like relics of the past. Lara Jean’s yearbook cover plastered with “Class of 2021” seems like salt in the wound for this year’s actual high school seniors, very few of whom get to experience these memorable moments. For everyone else, though, the movie can serve as a sweet escape back to simpler times. “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is a beautiful, heartwarming wrap-up that lets viewers return to the endearing world of Lara Jean one last time.

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