Gable and Colbert. Hepburn and Tracy. Ringwald and McCarthy. Condor and Centineo?
Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, the young stars of the burgeoning “To All the Boys” rom-com franchise, just might land in the pantheon of great on-screen couplings, thanks to the palpable heat between them, a passion that powers these popular teen romance flicks, based on Jenny Han’s series of young adult novels.
The first film, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” was a pop cultural phenomenon, part of the recent rom-com renaissance, aided in large part by streaming giant Netflix. Audiences fell in love with the hopelessly romantic and certifiably boy-crazy Lara Jean Covey (Condor) and one of her crushes, the puppyish Peter Kavinsky (Centineo), enveloped in the retro fantasy of the jock who falls for the bookish (and gorgeous) shy girl at school.
But every great rom-com is about keeping the lovebirds apart before letting them get together, so in the sequel, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” some variables are thrown into the mix. Namely, one of those other boys, of “all the boys I’ve loved before.” Remember those love letters Lara Jean’s sister sent out without her knowledge? She receives a reply, from John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), which sets Lara Jean’s head spinning, all while she’s trying to figure out this whole “how to be a girlfriend” thing, and all the jealousy insecurity, and indecision that comes along with it.
Cinematographer Michael Fimognari (“Fast Color”) makes his directorial debut on the sequel, taking over from Susan Johnson. Written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe, the film is not exactly a thrill ride — its languorous rhythms lull the viewer into submitting to the soft charms of this utterly pleasant and jewel-toned world, with its flickers of the fantastic, in musical sequences, elaborate baking scenes, or breakups performed in front of huge aquarium tanks of undulating jellyfish.
“To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” owes its provenance to the films of John Hughes, who set the standard for angsty teen stories where stylish and neurotic young women pine over well-meaning hunks. The covers of classic ’80s tunes on the soundtrack signal the film’s Hughesian DNA.
The sequel offers more of the same rom-com beats (though it is woefully lacking in the com department): the misunderstandings and grand gestures; the lessons about risking it all to have it all, and the rude awakening that, yeah, love hurts. But the most important thing Lara Jean learns this time around is that it’s not just all about the boys. She has a few words to share with the girls in her life too.
The real draw to the “To All The Boys” cinematic universe is the connection between Condor and Centineo, who have intoxicating chemistry, keeping things interesting as “P.S. I Still Love You” ambles to its inevitable conclusion. They bring the charm, but one wishes it had a more exciting movie to support it.
Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes
Playing: Available on Netflix