thinking out loud

And Now, Some Discourse About the Ending of the To All the Boys Movie Universe

Photo: Katie Yu/Netflix

This Friday, Netflix wrapped up its sparkly rom-com trilogy of Lara Jean Covey’s time in high school with To All the Boys: Always and Forever. After falling into a relationship with her crush Peter Kavinsky thanks to an old love letter in the first movie, wrestling with her attraction to another crush in the second, Lara Jean’s got a new paramour in her life, only this time around it’s [cue Sex and the City music] the city of New York! Peter gets into Stanford and Lara Jean doesn’t, but then she finds herself longing for a new life across the country at NYU. Meanwhile, there’s also a dreamy trip to Seoul, stressed-out parental dynamics, a wedding, scrunchies, and her younger sister’s discovery of boys. Vulture’s Devon Ivie and Jackson McHenry got together to discuss this melancholic end of an era.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Jackson McHenry: What a journey we’ve been on with Lara Jean. She fell in love in one movie, was caught in a love triangle in her second, and in the third, she’s dealing with heartbreak! Well, not specifically of the romantic kind, but academic, since the big twist here is that after all of her and Peter’s planning, she doesn’t get into Stanford with him. First, she lies about getting in to try to keep things superficially okay, and then she’s lured by the siren song of NYU to consider moving across the country instead. It all involves a lot of hand-waving over the college application process, but to me, it also sort of felt like watching an extended breakup, even if the two of them stay together at the end of the movie. Do you have hope for them making it past the classic college freshman Thanksgiving-break breakup? In my time, this was for some reason dubbed “the turkey dump.”

Devon Ivie: I love the term “turkey dump,” and now I’m suddenly craving one of those Wawa Thanksgiving sandwiches. I’ll be frank, Jackson, I just don’t see these two beautiful teens staying together, just as I don’t see Peter making it to his second semester at Stanford without getting on academic probation. As soon as Lara Jean hit us with the “we’re not like those other couples” ideology, I zoned out. I can’t wait for an epilogue where she discovers the joys of setting her Hinge profile to a three-mile radius because she’s too lazy to travel to the other NYC boroughs, never mind a 3,000-mile difference to California.

Taking it back, I think my favorite part of the movie was when the Covey girls go on a shopping spree at Laneige when they’re vacationing in Seoul. That is my dream. I say this as someone who’s typing with the Berry Lip Sleeping Mask slathered around my entire lower face. Can I get your input about Peter’s sheet-masking technique? He rubbed it off with a towel immediately after taking it off. That made me angry. What waste of $3!

JM: Very grim! You gotta start protecting the moisture retention in your pillowy face now, Peter! Though that’s also realistic for the skin-care approach of any bro-y lacrosse player in high school, so I appreciate the verisimilitude.

I also agree that the best part of the movie was that early trip to Seoul, because it felt like it opened up a lot of Lara Jean’s character and her relationship to the mother she didn’t get to know, including her regrets about not having learned Korean from her. The moment when she talks about feeling like she doesn’t quite fit in there as an American visiting Korean lands well, too. You get the sense that this girl, who’s led a pretty cloistered life, is finally getting to see what else is out there. No wonder she falls in love with another city when she visits New York. Also, shout-out to Kitty for living it up and meeting her own long-distance boyfriend in Seoul. Happy for her.

DI: Kitty is the best and made me seriously consider trying out pigtails for the first time in two decades. But yes, it was lovely to get a bit more backstory about the Covey matriarch and the profound impact she had on her daughters before she passed. (I also had no idea the city had a love padlock bridge, so it was fun to read about it. Cue the inevitable Leslie and Ben comparisons.) I had assumed the girls previously visited South Korea, so it makes total sense that Lara Jean’s first meaningful trip outside of Oregon would awaken this sense of belonging and adventure. I think she made the right choice to pass up UC Berkeley (and its proximity to Peter at Stanford) for NYU.

This is a petty aside, but can I get your thoughts on the strange vendetta this movie has against rock music? In an effort to determine what her and Peter’s song is, Lara Jean gets pissy about Oasis, and then Little Richard. The dis-res-pect! I’m going to need to do a straw poll if all kids under the age of 18 feel this way.

JM: As our resident rock expert, I was going to ask you about this movie’s take on Oasis. I guess they do get some redemption when she moodily listens to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” later on in the movie, after rebuffing Peter’s suggestion that it be their relationship song, but still, there’s a lot of Oasis negativity going on here. I thought the aesthetics of this movie were fascinating in general, too, and not necessarily in the way they’re intended. It sticks to a lot of Instagram-friendly pastels and set designs and scene transitions, like the previous movies, and even adds further embellishments. There’s a moment where Lara Jean walks through a “Take on Me”–style sketched version of her kitchen. It’s all this soft, cozy world, which sort of clashed with the way that it’s really a melancholy story about two people realizing they’re going to be going in different directions as adults. It’s almost as if the movie is crawling under its own comforters to avoid thinking about the implications of its plot. Which, relatable.

It also underlines how much of a culture shock NYU is going to be for Lara Jean, hopefully in a good way. She falls in love with New York after a whirlwind of an idealized, TikTok-friendly trip to tourist places and rooftop events, and doesn’t even realize where the university is until she’s in the middle of Washington Square Park. She also leans toward the city because it’s home to all the best rom-coms, and somehow includes Serendipity on that list. All love to Kate Beckinsale, but is that the best rom-com? And what’s it gonna be like when Lara Jean inevitably gets paired with an over-it roommate who is in Gallatin and would rather watch art films? (I did not go to NYU, so my understanding of it is informed entirely by watching Search Party.) In a way, I’m excited for her, because there’s a lot of growing up to do.

DI: I proudly went to school in Colonial Williamsburg, so I share all of your concerns about Lara Jean’s first year in the big city and how it’ll mess with her psyche. We know she has a good head on her shoulders. But now that I think about it, I’m more concerned with where this poor girl is going to do her baking. To your aesthetic point, I’ve always loved the aerial shots of Lara Jean whipping up something scrumptious on her kitchen island, which was very much her “special place,” free of high-school bullshit. Her baking was always so meticulous. So monochrome. So … clean. (Wes Anderson should get a retroactive thank-you.) It pains me to imagine where she’s going to store all of her Kitchen Aids, even if her dorm room was given the supersized Hollywood treatment. I hope she enjoys having exactly one (1) unit of shelf space in her dorm’s communal kitchenette.

Jackson, I’m curious if you think Netflix will want to do another To All the Boys sequel in a few years, even though Jenny Han ended it as a trilogy. And if so, what do you think it should look like?

JM: I don’t know if I’d want to see another To All the Boys with so much fanfare around the Lara Jean stuff, but I do think there could be a Felicity-style look at Lara Jean in college. That show did great work with an overly romantic character’s coming of age in a fake NYU, so why not do it again in real NYU? Though mostly I feel like I’d be happy to see anything from Lana Condor. Noah Centineo got the big Netflix boyfriend-of-the-month treatment when the first movie came out (and at this point, it feels like we get Netflix boyfriends of the week), but she’s responsible for a lot of the subtler work in these movies. I’d be interested to see her in something that’s more of a drama. I feel like she could pull it off.

That said, the movie ends with Peter and Lara Jean renewing their relationship contract (very 50 Shades) and promising to keep sending each other letters from 3,000 miles away. Good luck to them on the postage costs! Any last thoughts from you?

DI: I’m still processing the fact that Netflix chose Noah as the lead in their GameStop stock-market movie, even though Lana seems to have landed herself a spooky fun project. But, yes, Lara Jean and Peter’s romantic affirmations are very cute and very college freshman-y, and they’re probably going to give USPS the influx of cash needed to stay in business. Let’s celebrate that! I like how, ultimately, the viewer can project their own ideas onto the fate of the duo’s relationship. Three months later? Together. Nine months? Probably not. (That’s me, anyway.) It’s a shame John Corbett’s DILF is no longer single, because I could watch that man all day, every day, always and forever. Give him a spinoff.

About That Ending of the To All the Boys Movie Universe