If you asked me to pick a genre for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before without a moment of hesitation I would tell you it’s a rom-com.
Admittedly, I went into To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You thinking it too would be a rom-com. And like lots of people I was disappointed to discover that I did not experience the same warm and fuzzy feeling I felt when watching Lara Jean and Peter fall in love with each other in the first film.
But then my very wise friend challenged my genre choice and disappointment.
“It’s not rom-com, at least not completely. It’s actually a coming-of-age story.”
Naturally, I did what anyone would have done after having their opinion challenged, I rewatched the film.
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You isn’t a rom-com because it doesn’t follow the traditional rom-com conventions we’ve come to expect and love. Here’s the thing, Lara Jean and Peter are already together. We know they’re going to stay together (if you’ve read the book) and since we know this, there are no stakes involved in their relationship. It’s the same reason why The Office got boring when Jim and Pam got together and why no one cared about Ross and Rachel while they were together.
Sure, John Ambrose attempts to up the stakes. He has some worthy lines and he tries to get Lara Jean to finally be his, but it just doesn’t have the same effect as Lara Jean and Peter’s fake relationship in the first film. And that’s no one’s fault at all — Jordan Fisher was phenomenal and I loved him in the role.
Given all this, I realized that To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You really isn’t a rom-com and truly is a coming-of-age story.
I know what you’re thinking, “Dani what the hell are you talking about the film revolves around a love triangle?!” Well, if you keep reading I’m going to explain my reasoning.
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is a coming-of-age film because, at its core, it’s about the struggles of navigating a real relationship in the complex world of high school.
The fact of the matter is, Lara Jean and Peter are both immature and struggling with their relationship with each other. Peter can’t let go of Gen and Lara Jean is plagued with these intrusive “what if” thoughts after receiving John Ambrose’s letter and learning the truth about who Peter was waiting for in the hot tub on the ski trip.
Throughout the film, we see Lara Jean and Peter both struggle and grow out of the mistakes they make with each other. If we look at To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You within the confines of a rom-com, we’re doing a huge disservice to the actual plot we’re watching.
In fact, during my rewatch, I found nearly 10 scenes that support the idea that To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is, in fact, a coming-of-age story instead of a rom-com. But it’s not just specific scenes that prove that this film is a coming-of-age story and not a rom-com, but rather the arc of the film.
We all know Lara Jean is in love with the idea of being in love. This is set up rather quickly in the first film and it’s something we are reminded of right away in the sequel. The film opens with her proclaiming to Kitty that her love life is better than her favorite movie’s love life because her’s is real. That scene already expresses this innocence about her and her idealistic viewpoints on what love is.
Obviously, over the course of the film, Lara Jean learns that love isn’t supposed to be this picture-perfect thing. That’s it’s complicated and messy and sometimes people break each other’s hearts even though they promised (and thought) they never would. Lara Jean learns all this not because the film is a rom-com, but rather because it is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl going through the growing pains of her first relationship.
One of the most coming-of-age scenes in this film occurs when Peter takes Lara Jean home after a house party. Before she can get out of the car the two kiss and things begin to get heated. Lara Jean voiceovers the entire sequence before she finally stops Peter and blurts out that she doesn’t want to have sex with him right now. Peter is a bit taken aback by her statement because he wasn’t trying to pressure her and he’s slightly hurt that she feels he might be. An awkward moment turns even more awkward when Lara Jean brings up the fact that she knows Peter has had sex in the past and she’s worried that them not having sex is going to make him question their relationship.
This scene does two things. One, it tells us that Lara Jean is not ready to take that next step with Peter even though she loves him. And the wonderful thing about Peter is that he doesn’t push Lara Jean. In fact, he’s a bit nervous that he has pressured her given that she just proclaimed she doesn’t want sex after a make-out session. Listen, Peter gets a lot of slack sometimes for being the jerk boyfriend, but he really does care about Lara Jean and her feelings.
Secondly, this scene establishes Lara Jean’s insecurity in her own dating history and her feelings towards Peter having already experienced all his “firsts” with Gen. It’s a growing pain many people face when they realize that their first-ever significant other is more experienced than they are. Lara Jean perfectly captures what that is like and how it not only affects her but also how she sees Peter. The last thing Lara Jean wants is to lose Peter because they’re not having sex and thankfully, Peter understands this and firmly tells Lara Jean that he doesn’t care. I love a respectable man doing the bare minimum of goodness.
This theme of Lara Jean feeling insecure in her relationship with Peter because of Gen becomes the driving force of Lara Jean’s inner turmoil throughout the rest of the film. We see her bring it up to Lucas at the party when she talks about how if she were sharing the ice cream sandwich with Peter she would have been wondering if he did the same thing with Gen. It’s the source of conflict when Peter unintentionally invites Gen to the treehouse party and it’s extremely relevant when Lara Jean finds out the truth about #HotTubGate.
Lara Jean is so hung up on the fact that she’s the second person to experience things with Peter that she starts to believe that she is second best, even though he’s told her she’s not time and time again. And that feeling of being second best is why she flocks to John Ambrose because she doesn’t know anything about his past so she can believe she’s his first and only choice. She’s safe with him, at least she thinks so. Let’s be honest, John Ambrose is basically the male version of the manic pixie dream girl stock character. He’s only there for Lara Jean to indulge in her fantasies of being a first and to show her that Peter really is the one. But, that’s a topic for another day.
Moving on, if we continue on with the fact that the plot revolves around Lara Jean accepting her insecurities and getting over the fact that she’s not going to be Peter’s first kiss, first relationship, first whatever than the scene between her and Gen in the treehouse becomes the most important one.
After learning about who Peter was waiting for in the hot tub that night, Lara Jean breaks up with Peter. She goes back to her room and we see her text someone to meet her. We assume that she’s texting John Ambrose because “this is a rom-com” but, it’s not. Instead, it’s Gen who climbs up the ladder at the treehouse.
Lara Jean and Gen finally hash out their issues. Lara Jean confronts Gen about her insecurities and finally realizes that it’s not fair to put all the blame on Peter because she’s just as guilty of dragging Gen into the middle of their relationship. Gen, in return, tells Lara Jean that she’s not trying to steal Peter away from her, he’s just the only person that understands her. In some ways, I think that’s what Lara Jean was afraid of. This idea that Gen and Peter have this bond that can’t be broken because they’ve experienced so many firsts together. But, Lara Jean doesn’t have to worry about those things because Peter loves her and there are so many other firsts they can experience together.
In the end, Gen reveals that she put the same friendship bracelet in the time capsule as Lara Jean did. Lara Jean refers back to her Korean heritage and discovers that sometimes having a connection with someone that can’t be broken isn’t always a bad thing. And it doesn’t mean that romantic feelings are still involved, it just means they’ll always have a special place in your heart and in your memories.
Even though Lara Jean doesn’t get back together with Peter right away, that scene is the confirmation she needed to realize that Peter does love her and that she loves him despite his connection with Gen.
And that’s Lara Jean’s coming-of-age story.
But what about Peter?
Peter undergoes a similar and yet different coming-of-age transformation in To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. Unlike Lara Jean, he’s never doubted his feelings towards her and he’s never really had anyone to make him feel jealous until John Ambrose arrives. Peter’s coming-of-age story stems from him learning that it’s okay to fight for what you want instead of choosing the comfortable option.
Going back to #HotTubeGate, was it shitty of Peter to play it off like he was waiting for Lara Jean when he was actually waiting for Gen? Kind of. But here’s the thing, at that moment Lara Jean wasn’t giving Peter any hints that she was interested in a real relationship with him. She didn’t sit with him on the bus to the ski resort and she didn’t go out in the snow with him either. In his eyes, they were never going to be anything more than a pretend boyfriend to her. And so, when the opportunity of reconnecting with his ex, who was his first love, presents itself of course, Peter was going to take it.
Thus, Lara Jean getting bad at Peter when she learns the truth in To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, is half justified and half unwarranted. At the end of the day, Peter did choose Lara Jean at that moment and he kept choosing her from then on out. He didn’t want to tell Lara Jean the truth because he knew she and Gen already hated each other and he didn’t want to make things worse.
Peter tries to convince Lara Jean that she’s enough for him but nothing ever works, so when she drives him away for the third or fourth time he throws in the towel. Besides, he knows she’s has John Ambrose waiting in the wings for her. That reality is John Ambrose is what forces Peter to think about his connection with Gen. For Peter, John Ambrose allows Peter to understand the way Lara Jean feels about Gen. It’s only then does he realize how his relationship with Gen affects Lara Jean.
Now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy because none of that is stated in the film, but that’s the point. Films are so much more than what we see on screen, many of them have rich subtexts and To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is no exception.
At the end of the day, the tension in To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You doesn’t stem from a contrived love-triangle, but rather, Lara Jean and Peter’s insecurities in themselves and their relationship. Once these two realize this and stop letting the fear of breaking each other’s hearts hold them back, they are able to get on with their happily ever after. And that is why To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is not a rom-com, but rather, a coming-of-age story.
And if we look at it as a coming-of-age story than To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is a solid 10/10.
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is streaming now on Netflix.
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Featured Image Source: Netflix