This story contains spoilers for To All The Boys: Always and Forever, now streaming on Netflix.
To All The Boys: Always and Forever kicks off with Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) on solid ground. They’re about a year into their relationship, graduation is looming, and that means college is on the horizon. At this point, our favourite epistolary romantics have the future figured out: They’ll go to Stanford together, have lots of cool experiences, and live happily ever after. That foolproof plan quickly falls apart when Lara Jean doesn’t get accepted. Her backup, UC Berkeley, is only an hour away, and would mean she and Peter wouldn’t have to risk a long-distance relationship. But then comes the acceptance letter from NYU, and the school trip to New York City, where Lara Jean finds a new part of herself come alive with promise.
“That was the biggest point of discussion when it came to talking to the writers, producers, and directors in pre-production,” Lana Condor told Refinery29 over Zoom ahead of the film’s February 12 release. “I was like ‘Listen, [in] the past two movies all the choices have been about boys and relationships. That’s appropriate for the genre and for growing up — we love to see it. But [in] this movie, we need to start to see her making choices for herself and for her future, regardless of whether or not that’s a popular opinion in her relationships.’
“I never thought I would get this opportunity, and because of that, I want to make sure that young actors don’t have to think that it’s a pipe dream."
Condor stressed that though she, too, has been riveted by the love triangle ups and downs of the last two films, it was exciting to change gears and really focus on Lara Jean’s story. After all, To All The Boys is also about the coming-of-age of a young woman. Romance is part of that, but it’s not Lara Jean’s entire identity. In that sense, Always and Forever feels a little more mature. This time, the love affair is between Lara Jean and the potential future she sees for herself, one that’s exciting and a little scary — not unlike a new crush.
“We also need to love watching a young girl finally step out into the world and make choices for herself. That interests me more just as Lana. Obviously we have great romance in Always and Forever, but there’s space to see her grow as a young woman. I really wanted to make sure that this young girl’s world doesn’t just revolve around someone else, but also around her dreams and her future.”
In fact, Condor joked that she’s seen a marked shift around the press tour for the film this time around that reflects Lara Jean’s journey. Since 2018, she’s been fielding questions about one boy or another — is she Team Peter, Team Josh (Israel Broussard), or Team John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher)?
“What about Team LJ?” she said. “At some point, it almost felt like [Lara Jean] was only there to service the male characters. That comes with the territory when you’re talking about love triangles, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the women in [these] movies. That’s why I’m so excited about Always and Forever: We highlight the women more. [Lara Jean’s] friends, her sisters, and [her new stepmother] Trina. I really wanted to show all the women in Lara Jean’s life that make her who she is. Her mom died at a young age, so all the women in her life have kind of been that nurture for her.”
One relationship that gets special attention is Lara Jean’s on-again-off-again friendship with Gen (Emilija Baranac), also Peter’s ex-girlfriend. During a class trip to New York, Lara Jean and best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur) run into Gen as she’s capping off her campus tour of NYU. Her guide invites them all to a party, and the three enjoy an adventure free of the drama that anchors them back home in Portland, OR. The night ends with the frenemies helping college students retrieve a couch from a bad ex-boyfriend, and running into an empty subway, collapsing on top of each other in fits of giggles. It’s a beautiful moment of newfound independence, and the bonds that come with being on your own in a new place, ready to cling to anyone who knew you before. In fact, Condor reveals that they even filmed an alternative ending to the one that you’ll discover in the final version of Always and Forever (I won’t spoil it), which focused on the link between Lara Jean and Gen.
"It’s my greatest joy that we’ve helped reignite the love for rom-coms."
“There was this alternative ending that we shot where Gen and Lara Jean go to NYU, and the last shot is Gen knocking on [her] dorm room and saying: ‘Hey, want to go get some lunch?’ she said. And though that scene didn’t make it into the final cut, Condor is pleased that its message ultimately comes through in the film regardless. “It was important for us to show a female relationship that heals. Women grow, and it’s really special to try again.”
Saying goodbye to a character that she’s played for almost four years has been bittersweet, but Condor is proud of what she’s accomplished. After three films, To All The Boys is now firmly entrenched in the rom-com canon, alongside the classics Lara Jean herself loves so much: Sixteen Candles, Say Anything, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, and Serendipity. We think differently about rom-coms because of it, especially when it comes to who gets to lead one.
“I never thought I would get this opportunity, and because of that, I want to make sure that young actors don’t have to think that it’s a pipe dream,” Condor said. “It’s baby steps [for Asian American representation] but at least it’s steps. Raya and the Last Dragon, Always Be My Maybe, Searching, The Farewell, Parasite — I know I’m missing so many, but that’s good! I’m very hopeful for the future, and I’m happy to be a part of it, especially when it comes to the youth category. It’s nice for me as a young actress to tell these stories about growing up and what it means to be a girl, in a mainstream way. It’s my greatest joy that we’ve helped reignite the love for rom-coms. We need so much happiness right now.”