The Netflix original To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You, directed by Susan Johnson is a perfect illustration of what exactly is problematic with romantic comedies. The movie, in spite of attempting a happy ending, falls prey to the narrative which overlooks how it is misogynistic in its approach. The first film, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, revolves around the protagonist Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor), whose sister Kitty (played by Anna Cathcart) sends away all the love letters Lara wrote when she was young. At the end of the film, she ends up with Peter Kavinsky (played by Noah Centineo), who eventually falls in love with her while he initially started dating the protagonist only to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Sounds like all rom-coms, isn’t it? Yes, the sequel does not disappoint either.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You initiates with the song, ‘Then He Kissed Me’, where Lara is celebrating that she is finally going out on her first date of her life with Peter Kavinsky, whom she loves. While she believes she is blessed in this perfect relationship, she suddenly receives a letter from a boy as a response to her love letter. John Ambrose McLaren (played by Jordan Fisher), appears to be the one leading her to question her feelings for Kavinsky. She is indecisive whether to write him back, but is sure of the fact, that there shouldn’t be any ‘secrets’ between boyfriends and girlfriends.
Such a narrative extensively suggests how it is completely considered to be ‘expected’ if the personal space gets eroded in romantic relationships, where everything necessarily revolves around the understanding of ‘us’. The most infuriating part of the movie was Lara Jean’s constant attempt to establish her identification as the girlfriend and Kavinsky’s unceasing effort to mansplain what she should be doing as a ‘girlfriend’.
EVENTUALLY, AT THE END OF THE MOVIE, SHE ENDS UP WITH PETER KAVINSKY (PLAYED BY NOAH CENTINEO), WHO EVENTUALLY FALLS IN LOVE WITH HER WHILE HE INITIALLY STARTED DATING THE PROTAGONIST ONLY TO MAKE HIS EX-GIRLFRIEND JEALOUS. SOUNDS LIKE ALL ROM-COMS, ISN’T IT? YES, THE SEQUEL DOES NOT DISAPPOINT EITHER.
As To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You proceeds, co-incidentally, Lara Jean and John Ambrose happen to volunteer for the same organisation. She is excited to meet him after a long time and as the days pass by, they recollect the memories they spent together when they were in grade six. Throughout the narrative, John Ambrose is clearly the better person in comparison to Peter Kavinsky; but he obviously gets his heart broken in the ending (spoiler alert).
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The protagonist seems to be little insecure about Kavinsky’s ex-girlfriend, Gen (played by Emilija Baranac) with whom she shared a very strong friendship, once. So in the end, the movie does not fail to incorporate token representation of ‘sisterhood’, which clearly violates the purpose of portraying such instance of homosociality.
In one of the scenes in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You, Peter Kavinsky, athlete, does not fail to mansplain how all girlfriends should dress up as cheerleaders to show support to their boyfriends, and while you expect Lara Jean to break this norm, the movie upholds its sexist convictions. Later, Lara finds out how her relationship with Kavinsky was based on an accidental lie. The movie portrays how if your friend is involved in cyber harassment, you hide it and don’t demand legal help. Kavinsky, inspite of being conscious about how Gen is responsible for making an intimate private video of Lara and him without consent, decides to leave it unaddressed throughout the movie, until Lara finds it out when he finally reveals it.
The story goes on to revolve around the ‘sometimes you have to kiss the wrong man to know who is right for you’ narrative and Lara, after having an intimate moment with John Ambrose, realises how she should go back to a toxic relationship because that’s what ‘love’ is.
Nevertheless, one of the highlights from the movie can be considered as when, Lara’s best friend, Christine (played by Madeleine Arthur), has a conversation with the protagonist about how sexual exploration of oneself is important to know one’s own body better. It is important to highlight such a conversation, as part of a teenage romance narrative as female masturbation is still considered a taboo. It is also important since this scene can be cited as an instance of exchange of such dialogue in a high school space as far as female homosociality is concerned. Another takeaway from the movie would be how the father-daughter relationship has been illustrated in the movie. The movie tried to give such portrayal a compassionate perspective and was successful in delivering so.
The story of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You goes on to revolve around the ‘sometimes you have to kiss the wrong man to know who is right for you’ narrative and Lara, after having an intimate moment with John Ambrose, realises how she should go back to a toxic relationship because that’s what ‘love’ is. While the audience is overwhelmed with such a story line, it clearly suggests how we overlook toxic patriarchal attributes characterising romantic comedies’ narratives.
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Such a portrayal of ‘love’ in mainstream media has necessarily established a hegemonic and universal definition of how romantic relationships are to be interpreted and most importantly practiced. This movie can be identified as a perfect example of how romanticisation of ‘break my heart into thousand pieces’ only glorifies how primarily romantic relationships are supposed to be characterised by hurt, lies and pain. Trust me we all can do better than that.
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