When I was first asked to review To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I LOVED the first one. The romance, the teenage drama, the meddling sisters, the uncompromising commitment to the author’s insistence that Lara Jean be played by an Asian-American actress and, of course, that incredibly cute pocket twirl that I forced my partner to practise with me (turns out I am not that coordinated).
So it was that I found myself on my squishy blue couch on Valentine’s Day with a glass of rosé in hand and my (slightly disgruntled) partner at my side, ready to fulfil all my Lara Jean and Peter K dreams.
This movie was exactly what it promised to be. The kind of teenage love that makes anything feel possible. A very romantic date lighting paper lanterns that, as my partner helpfully pointed out, wouldn’t be practical in Australia at the moment with our total fire ban. An achingly naïve promise to never break each other’s heart. A boy who would change his name for you. The crushing realisation that people are just people, and that nobody is perfect. The most depressing rendition of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ I’ve ever heard. And the realisation that it’s not true love if you’re not risking your heart.
As the movie went on, however, I quickly realised that it’s about more than teenage romance and high school drama. What actually lies at the heart of this movie is something more.
Since its very origins as a genre, one of romance’s strengths is the way that it has pushed the bounds of societal expectations. Telling us we can have both romance AND a fulfilling career. Reminding us that our pleasure is important and we shouldn’t settle for less. Creating a safe space for characters of all ethnicities, genders and sexualities. For a genre that relies quite heavily on tropes, romance does its fair share of kicking them to the kerb.
In this movie, we’re pushing back against a lie we’ve been told our entire lives. That, somehow, other women are the enemy.
In the first movie, Jen is set up as one of the key complications to Lara Jean and Peter K’s happy ending. This movie subverts that narrative and hits home the real truth: that your happy ever after is not achieved by tearing other women down. We will no longer allow society to pit us against each other. Instead, we will place the blame where it lies: on the patriarchy! Just kidding (mostly).
No, To All the Boys 2 places the blame where it actually belongs: on our own insecurities.
And this is such an important lesson to learn. Because while we are not all going to be best friends all the time, women supporting women is how we’re going to change the world. Lara Jean explains that she and Jen have ‘jung’, which she describes as a ‘connection between two people that can’t be severed’. Jen and Lara Jean sitting at either end of that cubby house, their inescapable tenderness for each other hovering in the silence between each deep revelation, even after love has turned to hate, is what womanhood is all about.
I’m extrapolating here, but just as this is true on an individual level, it’s also true for women as a whole. ‘Part of us will always be tied to one another.’ And until we face our own insecurities, that mythical happy ending will stay just out of reach.
This is the kind of girl power that makes romance so important.
At the end of the day, what we all really want are girls in our lives who have our back no matter our differences, and someone who says ‘break my heart’. (Or ‘I like reading with you. You’re really pretty.’ I’m cool with either.)