Angel or Spike? Jess or Logan? Dawson or Pacey? The love triangle trope that made the WB network famous in the late 1990s is alive and well on Netflix – specifically in the smash hit To All the Boys franchise, adapted from Jenny Han’s best-selling novels.
Long-awaited sequel To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You was released Feb. 12, just in time for Valentine’s Day viewing. Screenwriter Sofia Alvarez continues the story of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), whose lifelong habit of writing love letters to her crushes got her into trouble – and love.
Fans have divided into two camps: Team Peter (Noah Centineo), Lara Jean’s love interest from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Team John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), her old grade school friend who comes back into her life just as she and Peter are finding their footing.
Written solely by Alvarez and directed by Susan Johnson, the first film focused on how Lara Jean’s letters forced her out of her shell and made her look at life outside the pages of her beloved romance novels. Her relationship with Peter was a major part of that, creating the rare, enjoyable love story for the teen set. But in the sequel, which happens to be directed by Michael Fimognari and co-written by J. Mills Goodloe (The Best of Me, Everything, Everything), her choices are narrowed down to two boys. With the exception of a few meaningful scenes with her little sister and former best friend that make the sequel squeak by on the Bechdel-Wallace test, P.S. I Still Love You is centered entirely around which boy makes Lara Jean feel more herself.
This is a common trend with female directors – Catherine Hardwicke directed the first Twilight film, adapted from the wildly popular Stephanie Meyer books. Once it was proven a substantial box office success, the subsequent sequels were directed by men. Every Harry Potter film is written and directed by men despite featuring dynamic women characters; only the Fantastic Beasts franchise is written by author JK Rowling. Carrie Fisher’s screenplay for Postcards from the Edge was referred to as “A Mike Nichols Film,” and other examples of women writing novels and screenplays that are then helmed by male directors are seemingly endless. That’s not to say men can’t or shouldn’t direct meaningful films about teenage girls – Ken Kwapis directed Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (2005), which helped define that generation of film fans.
P.S. I Still Love You did see a notable dip in positive critical reception; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 81 percent on CherryPicks, while its sequel sits at 72 and 62 percent on the respective sites. P.S. is still a sweet and ultimately emotionally satisfying movie that handles mature themes about teen sexuality and genuine friendship between its two leads. Lara Jean’s autonomy and independence carry over from the first film, and her confidence has doubled as a character. Both films bring that sort of airy enjoyment that the aforementioned teen dramas brought – but the best thing about Rory Gilmore, Joey Potter and Buffy Summers was that they had more going on in their lives than their boyfriends.
Plotwise, both screenplays obviously follow Han’s initial intentions for the books – and P.S I Still Love You does have the lowest GoodReads rating of the three novels in the trilogy (still a very positive 4.13 average rating). Han’s adaptations are far superior entertainment to the CW’s current offerings – especially when it comes to positive female representation (Betty Cooper role-playing is beyond problematic). But there’s still that nagging feeling that this story would be better served if told by women. TV writer and producer Katie Lovejoy is set to pen the final chapter of Lara Jean’s story, which will hopefully be a well-rounded conclusion to a story about a girl whose story has meant so much to young women in the Netflix era.
© Georgiana E. Presecky (2/25/20) FF2 Media
Photos Courtesy of Netflix
Photos: To All the Boys continues the tired “team” trend in young adult fiction.