The pursuit of a relationship is so much more compelling than its maintenance, cinematically at least. That would explain why To All The Boys: Always And Forever, the third and final installment of the Netflix romance series, feels so oddly flat and uninspired. That it fares unfavourably compared to the previous two films might also have something to do with the first movie having the most fanfiction-y, and thus more escapist, plot (a high-school student finds out all her crushes have received letters detailing her past affection for them), as opposed to the more morose, real-world problems of the other two (the resurgence of a former flame, the threat of long-distance). The pastel hues of the franchise endure in this film, but the rose-tinted glasses are off, making for an inert, sluggish romcom that’s light on both the rom and com.

The film goes for seriousness instead. It picks up with Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) at their cheesiest, schmaltziest best (Cute gifts? Check. Promises of forever? Check.), but their relationship hits a roadblock when Lara doesn’t get accepted to the same college that Peter does. Since romcoms come with the expectation that everything will end happily for the lead pair, the challenge then is making sure that the obstacles in their path are plausible enough that you root for the couple to overcome them. To All The Boys: Always And Forever, however, deploys its obstacles clumsily and without conviction.

A miscommunication initially leads to Peter thinking that, like him, Lara’s got into Stanford, a bit that goes on for far too long before she finally tells him the truth — that she’s attending Berkley instead. The film doesn’t trust itself to create a sense of urgency or compelling narrative stakes so it draws on other works of literature and film to help out. Peter says they’ll be the “Romeo and Juliet” of their respective colleges. Because they’re rival institutions, get it? It’s a comparison that only makes the film look foolish. Even the big romantic moments aren’t original. Peter pulls up outside Lara’s house with a loudspeaker in hand — a clear reference to Say Anything (1989), which, to its credit, the film does acknowledge.

To up the stakes, it throws another curveball Peter’s way — Lara decides to go to NYU, much further away than originally planned. They worry about whether their relationship will survive, which imbues the rest of the film with a sad, defeated air. A brief moment of levity comes when Lara describes her relationship as “burning low and slow…like brisket.” The film could’ve used a lot more of these lines.

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Towards the end of this installment, a montage of the first one plays, inducing more mushy feelings than anything that’s come before it. There’s a moment earlier on in the film, when Lara complains about her and Peter being the “worst romcom couple ever” because they don’t have a song, or a meet-cute story. I wish director Michael Fimognari had figured out what made them special despite that. Because, despite the addition of those elements, this film is sorely lacking that.

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