The sequel to 2018’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before pretty much picks up where the last movie ended: right in the middle of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky’s happily ever after. Lara Jean gets a perfect “real” first date, ending with the pair writing their wish on a floating lantern – that they will never break each other’s hearts. Lara Jean feels like she’s inside a fairy tale that will never end and feels confident that her relationship is truly ideal. If we were in your average romantic comedy (specifically one targeting a younger audience as To All The Boys is), she’d be absolutely right.
Now that the two people who are meant to be have expressed their feelings, movies tell us, you may as well hit the seas – it’s smooth sailing! Romcom sequels usually either create fake obstacles we never doubt the couple will overcome by the end, or has the couple break up early on to let the protagonist explore a new and exciting love story.
To All The Boys 2 is a bit more honest with us than that. We see Lara Jean and Peter deal with insecurities, dishonesty, uncertainty, and failures in communication — they’re experiencing the other side of happily-ever-after. After reconnecting with a former crush (and recipient of another one of her love letters) John Ambrose, Lara Jean struggles to reconcile the way she feels about him with her new relationship status.
“I thought having a boyfriend meant the mere idea of other boys left your mind completely. And yet here I was, totally crazy about Peter but I couldn’t stop replaying my conversation with John Ambrose in my head,” she says. “I didn’t want to be thinking about what might have been if he’d gotten that letter in middle school instead of now. But I was.” The concept of navigating fluctuations in feelings and holding onto love for a partner in the face of other options is a level of nuance we generally don’t receive over the course of a 90 minute romcom.
To make matters even more complicated for Lara Jean, the ghost of Peter’s ex girlfriend constantly invades her subconscious when she’s with him, making her wonder if she stacks up or if she’s failing to be the right type of girlfriend. We watch her inability to communicate these insecurities, her failure to decide how she feels about John Ambrose, and her uncertainty about her relationship with Peter all collide at the time capsule opening.
Peter realizes Lara Jean hasn’t told John Ambrose about their relationship. In her efforts not to hurt anyone, LJ ends up bruising everyone. Peter and Lara Jean end up in a fight where he accuses her of keeping her options open, she openly wonders if she’s playing the part of his girlfriend well enough, and they ultimately promise never to fight again. The question is clearly on Lara Jean’s mind: should love be this hard?
If you ask the average movie, absolutely not. Any conflict or heartbreak is a sign of failure, of a relationship that isn’t working. Lara Jean and Peter clearly believe this when, in a confrontation about Peter’s support of his ex-girlfriend Gen, they agree to break up.
“We promised we weren’t going to break each other’s hearts,” he says. “I think that we both made promises we couldn’t keep,” she answers. Usually, that would be the end of it, and Lara Jean would be free to pursue the movie’s next love interest for her. But then we get a second, less expected revelation when Lara Jean kisses John Ambrose. “Sometimes you have to kiss the wrong man to know what’s right,” her mentor-slash-friend Stormy tells her. Peter and Lara Jean reunite, each realizing a complicated truth about love.
“I wanted something that doesn’t exist,” Lara Jean tells us. “I wanted a happily ever after.” Of course Peter and Lara Jean can’t promise each other they’ll never hurt each other. If you are truly close to someone, it’s inevitable that at some point, through a misunderstanding, past trauma or personality differences, someone’s feeling will get hurt.
Avoiding this isn’t a sign of a relationship that’s working. To have a relationship that isn’t in “half-measures,” you have to accept the messiness, confusion, honesty, and mistakes, working together to grow in closeness and understanding. I’m proud of Lara Jean for realizing this, and proud of the movie for giving us a more nuanced version of a romantic relationship.