By Sonia Mariam Thomas Feb. 18, 2020
Netflix romcom To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You feels untouched by the cynicism that has seeped into the app-dependent dating lives of the present. It reinstilled my faith in going all the way to chase my own happily ever after. Even if it gives someone the power to break my heart.
I was 10 when I had my first crush. He was in my class and his dimples made my day. He was also the one boy in my class who didn’t think I was a crybaby or too sensitive. That only made me like him even more. I’d go home and write about him in my diary like introverted high school junior Lara Jean Covey, the lead from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. I’d imagine our lives together and make mental notes about what kissing him would feel like. At that point, I didn’t know what love was. But I sure as hell knew romance.
Romance, movies told me, involved wooing and multiple chance encounters like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. It meant letting love brew slowly in the same fashion as When Harry Met Sally and airport endings like the ones I saw in Sleepless in Seattle. But most of all, these rom-coms were a reminder that the pursuit of love and romance demanded vulnerability. But that was back in the day. Today, love is as fleeting as an Instagram story – the grand ideas of romance that these ’90s romcoms sold us is past its expiry date.
But To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You, the Netflix romcom that premiered last week, sells us a different idea of love – more old school, less hollow. The sequel to 2018’s To All the Boys I Loved Before, feels untouched by the cynicism that has seeped into the app-dependent dating lives of the present. The first film had Lara Jean fall in love with Peter Kavinsky, one of the guys from her school that she wrote about in her diary. The sequel throws up a potential love-triangle with the introduction of an incredibly charming and tempting obstacle – John Ambrose McClaren. If Peter Kavinsky is the popular, goofy jock, then John Ambrose is the unabashed softboi – intelligent, sensitive, the kind who volunteers at a retirement home.
The confusion and indecisiveness that follows is a regular staple of romcoms, keenly gift-wrapped for a younger, more aware generation. Yet the film’s triumph, in my eyes, lies in its ending. To All the Boys I Loved Before closes with a rosy promise: Lara Jean and Peter kiss on the lacrosse field after he poses her a question: “You gonna break my heart, Covey?” To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You comes full circle with its emotionally bracing end sequence: Peter runs up to Lara Jean begging her to break his heart, “Break my heart into a thousand pieces.” he tells her earnestly. There’s none of the hesitance that you could sense in the previous film, only a desire to fall all in.
Today, love is as fleeting as an Instagram story – the grand ideas of romance that these ’90s romcoms sold us is past its expiry date.
It’s this sense of risking it all without a guarantee of a happily-ever-after that has been missing in the recent spate of rom-coms, a genre witnessing a resurgence partly due to the arrival of streaming platforms. Love is now a cynical convenience, that has its own lexicon of terms and conditions. Think about it, can you imagine anyone proclaiming “I hate the way I don’t hate you at all” or “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy asking him to love her” with as much urgency anymore? I for one, thought that I couldn’t. That is until To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You.
As I watched Lara Jean rush toward Peter after kissing John, I sensed a conviction in her in the idea of wanting to be with a guy who she knew could possibly break her heart. Both of them know that their relationship, like all human ties, is fragile. The only way out then, might just be to fall headfirst: bare themselves to one another despite knowing that their love could very well fail. In an era where dating has become an inexplicable competition of showing how less you care, Lara Jean and Peter reinstilled my faith in going all the way. Even if I fall flat on my face in the process.
A few months ago, I asked someone out after months of holding my affection in, staring at him longingly, and writing pages of endless praise in my diary. When he declined my offer, he added, almost as an afterthought, that I was brave for saying what I felt anyway. Annoyed at being patronised, I told him that I was starting to feel as if there was no point to taking risks in this right swipe lottery economy. The cycle is unbearable: Send a text, agonise over sending said text for hours only to face rejection. Does it even matter to try when love has a 99 per cent chance of failure, I asked. “Yeah, until the one per cent works out,” came his reply.
It might sound silly but it is this one per cent that I’ve been chasing since I was a 10-year-old impossibly infatuated by a boy and his dimples. The romcoms of the ’90s made me yearn for a love that didn’t need continuous reassurance; a romance that didn’t have to be Instagram official to be real. These movies made me internalise the idea that love meant being vulnerable without a regard for consequences. And that self-preservation was just another form of running away.
These are the things that To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You lovingly repackaged for the current generation. I rooted for Lara Jean to own up to her feelings, knowing that she wouldn’t be labelled sensitive – like I’d been called all my life – if she did. I cheered for Peter when he handed her a bottle of Yakult (a moment that resonated with Asians across the world) just because her sister told her she’d like it. That’s when it dawned on me that To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You is more than anything, a love letter to the time when we used to be people not afraid to admit to ourselves that we wanted someone with all our whole heart.
Sonia is a writer who doesn't write as much as she wishes to. When she is not working for the internet, she is spending time on it anyway because that's where she was meant to be.