To Netflix: thank you for another adaptation of the YA novels of Jenny Han. With To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the sequel to 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we have another movie that does right by Lana Condor, a charming young actress whose talent has been squandered in blockbuster fare, notably X-Men: Apocalypse and the otherwise impressive Alita: Battle Angel. Not that she’s only a good fit for teen rom-coms, but at least this franchise puts her front and center. We also get to see more of the enjoyable Anna Cathcart in something slightly more mature than Disney’s Descendants sequels.
Fans and critics might find the P.S. I Still Love You adaptation to be a messier work than the first movie, which helped put Netflix on the map as a savior of the rom-com genre — maybe the sequel should have also been directed by Susan Johnson rather than the first installment’s cinematographer, Michael Fimognari — but the cast keeps us interested and smiling. I’ll definitely be back for the third and final part of the trilogy, To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean. And while we wait for that sequel, I’ve got a curation of movies inspired by my viewing of the middle installment.
This week’s Movies to Watch After… recognizes the direct and indirect roots of To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You as I recommend fans go back and learn some film history, become more well-rounded viewers, and enjoy likeminded works of the past, even if it’s the fairly recent past. As always, I try to point you in the easiest direction of where to find each of these highlighted titles.
Charlie’s Angels (2019)
The first To All the Boys movie cemented Noah Centineo as both the internet’s boyfriend and Netflix’s go-to rom-com heartthrob. Unfortunately, the streaming service’s other recent entries in the genre featuring the actor and model — Sierra Burgess is a Loser and The Perfect Date — have been disappointing follow-ups. Thank goodness there are two more To All the Boys movies in which he plays lacrosse-playing jock love interest Peter Kavinsky to remind us that he’s a star to watch on the way to his eventual leading role as He-Man in the possibly ever happening Master of the Universe reboot.
Centineo got his first taste of major Hollywood action franchises last year with the latest incarnation of Charlie’s Angels. The IP-rebooting sequel, unfortunately, failed at the box office, which was fair since it is fairly bland plot-wise and hardly memorable character-wise outside of the performances from Naomi Scott and Centineo. But the latter, contrary to what the trailers make it seem, is barely part of the ensemble. He’s such a delight, though, playing a “handsome nerd” in contrast to his popular guy role as Peter Kavinsky, that you’ll come away thinking — and/or wishing — he was in it more.
Rent: Live (2019)
While technically not a “movie,” nor the best production of Rent, this live-broadcast staging of the hit musical is one of the better showcases for Jordan Fisher, who plays John Ambrose McClaren (replacing Jordan Burtchett, who portrays the character in the sequel-teasing stinger in the first movie). Like Cathcart, Fisher comes out of a Disney musical franchise, his being the Teen Beach movies, and he’s also been a pop singer, a winning contestant on Dancing with the Stars, and a member of the cast of Hamilton on Broadway. Before Rent: Live, he co-starred in Fox’s Grease: Live.
In Rent: Live, Fisher is front and center in the lead role that Anthony Rapp famously originated on the stage. His vocals might have you wishing the To All the Boys movies were also musicals and his performance will make you believe playing John Ambrose McClaren is — like the respective characters for much of the winning cast of the Netflix franchise — a stepping stone for bigger and brighter roles in the future. Fisher isn’t expected to be a part of the Always and Forever, Lara Jean adaptation, so hopefully, we’ll be seeing him advance in his career to other worthier projects sooner than later.
There’s a casting connection between To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and Blockers in Sarayu Blue, who is introduced in the sequel as neighbor Trina Rothschild. She’s a squeezed-in love interest for Lara Jean’s dad (played by John Corbett), and hopefully, fans like her enough in the part because her subplot is increased in the final chapter of the trilogy (at least in the books). In Blockers, she’s a relatively minor character as the mother of one of the main teens and wife to John Cena’s character. In both movies, despite her brief screentime, she’s a memorable presence in every scene she’s in.
But I’m not just recommending Blockers as another place to see Sarayu Blue playing a regular character rather than a bit part as a doctor (she’s also in the upcoming Clea Duvall lesbian rom-com Happiest Season and hopefully has a good role there, too). This comedy, which like To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You wishes to offer some balance between the kids and the adults storywise, is similarly sex-positive for young women in the rom-com genre. The scene in which Lara Jean (Condor) is told to become familiar with her body and its needs before sharing it with a boy would fit well with the sex-pact plot of Blockers.
Only the Young (2012)
For the better part of the last decade, the romantic comedy and especially the teen rom-com subgenre was floundering. Only the Young came about at just the right time to show that nonfiction cinema might be the best alternative to Hollywood’s failure in that arena. The documentary observes the true experiences in love and life of a trio of young adults in Southern California. Romance isn’t a typical focus for nonfiction films given the difficulty of being there for the most important moments of such stories, but filmmakers Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet capture enough, even if part of that is through vividly candid interviews.
Only the Young is primarily focused on two boys, best friends Garrison and Kevin, who also happen to be evangelical Christian skate punks. But there’s also a lot of room for Skye, who partly comes between them as both a romantic interest and just another very close friend, especially for Garrison. The “plot” is not as easily explained as the fictional love-triangle narrative that would be written for such characters because real life is not that simple. And while the love story element of Only the Young is a marketable angle, the doc is really just a very human character study of a few teens in recession-era America. Perfectly so.
The first of two movies on this list starring the late great John Mahoney, Flipped marked Rob Reiner’s return to period-set coming-of-age movies, and while it’s nowhere near as memorable as his iconic classic Stand By Me, it’s passably entertaining enough on a level akin to that of the To All the Boys movies (if Stand By Me didn’t exist for comparison, at least not as an earlier film by the same director Flipped might have received better reviews). As with a lot of Reiner’s work, and similar to To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the casting elevates the material and makes it watchable in spite of any flaws.
Also based on a YA novel, Flipped follows a story of young love as narrated by both main characters in a “he said, she said” manner. Skewing younger than the teen movie environment of To All the Boys, the movie begins with the couple meeting in second grade before picking back up in junior high in the early 1960s, when they’re close friends who obviously are meant to become boyfriend and girlfriend but just don’t as early as they should. It’s a plot that comes to mind with the backstory between Lara Jean and John Ambrose in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. There’s even a large tree, minus the treehouse, involved.