Disclaimer: I’ve never read Jenny Han’s To All the Boys books, so my opinions on the characters come directly from the movies and the movies only.
Also, my dislike of Peter Kavinsky is directed only to the fictional character and how he was written.
Look, I’m not a cynic when it comes to rom-coms. In fact, I’m a little bit of a hopeless romantic. I like when I fall into a 90-minute love story and root for the main characters to finally admit what they’ve been avoiding for 85 of those minutes.
However, I watched the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before last week, and I was very, very disappointed. The first movie showed Lara Jean fake-dating popular hotshot Peter Kavinsky after the love letter she wrote him in middle school is delivered. It ends with them falling in love for real. It wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but I thought it was a very cute movie.
The second movie starts with Peter and Lara Jean happily dating—but the honeymoon doesn’t last long. Lara Jean is nervous that Peter still has feelings for his ex, Gen, and she is volunteering at a senior center with John Ambrose McClaren, another boy who got one of her old love letters (she wrote five, in case you were wondering).
Lara Jean spent the whole movie waffling between Peter and John, but she ultimately goes back to Peter. In what’s supposed to be a romantic moment, Peter says, “Break my heart, Covey.” They kiss, the music swells, and the movie ends.
My reaction? Disappointment, and a little bit of disgust.
I get that the movie is trying to portray “true love,” but why oh why does Lara Jean’s true love have to be Peter Kavinsky? No offense [read: full offense], but he kind of sucks.
For starters, he’s late to a study date near the beginning of the movie. He blames it on lacrosse practice and says he can’t use his phone during practice.
Okay, that’s fine Peter, but couldn’t you have—oh, I don’t know, not agreed to go on a date on a day you know you’ll probably be running late and away from your phone?
Next, Peter starts to get jealous of John Ambrose when Lara Jean says John is volunteering at the senior center with her. When Lara Jean and John Ambrose plan a mini-party at their old treehouse to dig up a time capsule, Peter gets weirdly snippy and possessive. He even goes as far as to ask John, “Remember when you had that stutter?”
Also, Lara Jean asks Peter not to invite Gen to the time capsule party because they used to date (and Gen’s a major bully). Peter ignores her and mentions the party to Gen, who shows up to Lara Jean’s chagrin.
After the party, Peter tells Lara Jean that he should be the one buying pizzas and planning parties with her, not John. This whole exchange had me scratching my head—is Peter really so sensitive that he thinks John bringing pizzas for a party is his way of moving in on Lara Jean?
The nail in the coffin for me was when Peter was spotted hugging Gen by Lara Jean’s best friend Chris. It’s later revealed he was comforting her because her parents are going through a divorce, but I still think it’s weird. According to Peter, John Ambrose and Lara Jean can’t plan parties, but he and Gen can hang out and have deep discussions. There’s a double standard there I don’t like, and it reeks of hypocrisy.
Also, it’s discovered that in the first movie, Peter had plans to hook up with Gen in the midst of fake-dating Lara Jean. Not cool.
When Lara Jean breaks up with Peter because of this revelation, I was celebrating. Throughout the whole movie, Peter was kind of an ass. John Ambrose, on the other hand, was smart, funny, and nice. He was so flattered by Lara Jean’s letter but didn’t immediately try to move in on her. He was fine to just reminisce and stay friends, and only kissed her when she told him she and Peter broke up.
(Also, John Ambrose is played by Jordan Fisher, so I was immediately on board.)
However, after all the crap Peter put Lara Jean through, she goes back to him. First, she kisses John in the snow at a dance for the seniors at the senior center—and immediately realizes it wasn’t the right choice.
I don’t think you should spend a whole movie showcasing Peter’s (mostly) bad qualities and hyping up John, and then switch back in the last five minutes because Peter and Lara Jean are “truly in love.”
This rhetoric—the rhetoric of true love and soulmates—is harmful to the target audiences of these kinds of movies. Some relationships won’t work out, and some aren’t supposed to. But if movies and TV shows and books are constantly forcing soulmate storylines, people will get the wrong idea. They’ll stay in a relationship that isn’t right for them (and could be dangerous or toxic) because they think they’ve found their one true love.
That, my friends, is why I’m not happy with To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.
So, maybe I am a little bit of a cynic. But I don’t hate all love stories, even the ones that describe the love as “true.” I just don’t want younger audiences to be influenced by these movies and think that Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship is the standard.
Ladies, if you find your Peter Kavinsky, run. Run right into the arms of John Ambrose—understanding, caring, and loving John Ambrose McClaren.