Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch after you see the Netflix YA rom-com sequel To All the Boys: Always and Forever.
Netflix has officially delivered three successful installments in the To All the Boys series. To All the Boys: Always and Forever, the threequel to 2018’s smash-hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, succeeds in examining the trials and tribulations of high school romance through the charming relationship of Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), and Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor).
Although Always and Forever might be accused of having a slightly sloppier script than the first two installments of the trilogy, and a story that more-or-less leans on the fact that we were so enticed by the original, it still manages to capture its audience through the charisma of its leading lady and the ultimate feel-good nature of its overall message.
Always and Forever follows Peter and Lara Jean in their final year of high school. They both are set on keeping their relationship going during college at Stanford, but when Peter gets in and Lara Jean doesn’t, doubts begin to fester in both of their minds. What’s more, when Lara Jean visits New York on a class trip, she falls in love with NYU and the city around it. Can they possibly survive a bi-coastal relationship?
The answers may be found in the movie’s genetic makeup. Let’s look at the references to other movies within the plot ofTo All the Boys: Always and Forever, as well as what I perceive to be its most relevant influences.
The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)
The second installment of the Kissing Booth series has a lot of similarities to To All the Boys: Always and Forever, and not just because they both belong to popular teen romance Netflix franchises.
In The Kissing Booth 2, the relationship between Elle (Joey King) and Lee (Joel Courtney) takes a turn that reminds us an almost eerie amount of Peter and Lara Jean. In her pre-college angst, Elle is suddenly forced to choose between what is right for her and what is right for her relationship. This question is, incidentally, pretty much the crux of Always and Forever, and the directors of both films aren’t afraid to teach us how important it is to put our own needs first when it counts.
The fact that these two similar films came out within a year of each other might say a thing or two about the efforts our society is going to uplift young women in particular. And, whether or not you’re a fan of the Netflix rom-com, that’s something to celebrate.
Little Women (2019)
In a story that involves loving sisters, the influence of Little Women is never far from sight. In an interview with PopSugar shortly before the film’s release, Jenny Han, the creator of the To All the Boys book series, comments on the influence the famous novel had on her when envisioning her characters. “I definitely was inspired by Little Women and the coziness of the March house and the sisters and how they really, truly loved each other,” she says.
“But mainly, I was thinking about Beth, in the way that no one really wants to see themselves as a Beth because she’s the boring one who just plays the piano and stays at home, and then she dies. So I thought, well, for the Beths out there, what is their story?”
And, from the charming awkwardness that inspires her to have a box filled with love letters, to begin with, to her loyal and undying love for her sisters, I certainly see a lot of Beth in Lara Jean. And that’s a pretty darn good thing.
While there are numerous adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, I recommend the recent Oscar-winning take by Greta Gerwig. Because…
Lady Bird (2017)
Fans of Greta Gerwig, it turns out the To All the Boys franchise might just be the one for you. In addition to Little Women, Always and Forever finds kinship in yet another Gerwig feature: Lady Bird, which follows yet another high school senior from the West Coast who is torn due to her yearning to move to the East Coast for college.
However, for the titular Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), the force pulling her away from NYU isn’t a boy, but rather her mom. But the two characters are very much alike in their free-spirited, independent nature. Plus, the film has a killer soundtrack and Timothée Chalamet, so it’s pretty much a win-win.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Lara Jean spends the majority of To All the Boys: Always and Forever reading Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and that is no coincidence. Like the 19th century British novel, Always and Forever fashions its narrative around an unlikely romance — but instead of a clash of economic class, Peter and Lara Jean are a conflict in social status.
Simply put: it’s a truth universally acknowledged that every good rom-com is a descendant of a Jane Austen novel. Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of the classic tale might retell an old story, but the snappy interpretation of the characters of Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) puts a modern twist on the whole thing and reminds us that romances have been just as complex and frustrating since as long as people have written about them.
Orange County (2002)
Also following the trials and tribulations of the limbo state between high school and college, Orange County is a lighthearted look at the misadventures of a straight-A student whose guidance counselor accidentally sends the wrong transcript off to Stanford, where he’s dead-set on attending. Although the only overt similarity between Orange County and To All the Boys: Always and Forever is that both protagonists start off wanting to go to Stanford, this film is still worth mentioning as a coming-of-age, what-the-heck-am-i-gonna-do-next movie with a whole lot of heart.
Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
I suggest Can’t Hardly Wait in the same vein that I suggest Orange County. It is another movie about the rollercoaster that is the final days of high school, not dissimilar to other classics like Booksmart (2019) and Superbad (2007). In the movie, a lot of different people run amok in their respective storylines, one of which involves a couple (Peter Facinelli and Jennifer Love Hewitt), who break up at the end of their senior year becuase the guy thinks they can’t stay together long-distance while at college (mostly due to his own desires) but then changes his mind.
The Big Lebowski (1993)
A reference to The Big Lebowski in the To All the Boys franchise? The Dude abides. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean takes Peter on a surprise bowling date and introduces the plan by quoting The Big Lebowski. The film might be referenced because it is a lesson in how to not take things too seriously, or simply because it’s a rockin’ good movie. Either way, we love a good bowling scene, and we love it even more when films pay homage to classics like The Big Lebowski. Side note: I just want to take this moment to give an honorary mention to Grease 2, which is actually, like Always and Forever, a high school movie and may or may not have the best bowling scene of all time.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is referenced in To All the Boys: Always and Forever when Lara Jean watches it on a “sick day” that she takes in reaction to the news that she hasn’t gotten into Stanford. Later, Peter makes a remark that Stanford and Berkeley are like the Montagues and Capulets. Romeo + Juliet is always an appropriate reference when dealing with some kind of forbidden romance. Plus, Baz Luhrmann’s stunning aesthetics and idiosyncratic modernization of the Shakespeare play are always worth a watch.
Say Anything . . . (1989)
Finally, one of the most frequently referenced films in To All the Boys: Always and Forever is the classic teen movie Say Anything . . ., which is often heralded as one of the most romantic movies of all time. We also already recommended it as something to watch if you like To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean shows Peter the Cameron Crowe film as an example of true chivalry. Later, Peter mimics John Cusack’s iconic gesture where he stands outside of Diane’s Ione Skye’s window with a boombox. A lot of movies have referenced the rom-com – Easy A (2010) is a highly praised recent example – and with good reason. Say Anything . . . also deals with the turbulent nature of high school romance, and pretty much hits the nail on the head in every possible way.