Jits summer marks four years since Netflix released To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, a smash hit that created in-house stars out of leads Noah Centineo and Lana Condor, all but single-handedly cemented the revival of the romcom by Netflix and generated some sweet movie magic that the platform has been chasing ever since. Both franchise sequels and similar YA entries, such as May’s Along for the Ride (written by To All The Boys scribe Sofia Alvarez), have struggled to recapture the charm of the original, largely because the charm by nature cannot be manufactured.
Which makes it surprising, as someone who has seen many of these attempts, that Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between, the latest Netflix YA summer romance from the producers of TATBILB and starring TATBLIB veteran Jordan Fisher, mostly delivers where others have failed. The central romance clicks, the chemistry is more than the sum of its parts, and the tense narrative clocks in at 82 minutes. The script’s reference banter, by Ben York Jones and Amy Reed, based on Jennifer E Smith’s 2015 novel of the same name, is more than halfway believable. There are frustrating limits to the world the film depicts – an affluent and ambitious suburb, a very narrow and overrepresented slice of American teenage experience. But within the confines of that worldview, it nails the heady delusions and all-consuming neuroses of teenagers on the brink of change, thanks in large part to two very winning performances from Fisher and co-star Talia Ryder.
Fisher, also an executive producer, plays Aidan, the child of two doctors forced to follow in their footsteps. Over the course of 10 compelling and impressively effective minutes, he falls in love with Ryder’s Clare, a senior classmate and child of divorced high schoolers who has moved on after living elsewhere. They meet in November, and she claims she doesn’t want a boyfriend when she enters college; they kiss anyway and agree to free fall until the hard deadline of his departure. A montage of their first kiss to graduation and other milestones (it’s nice, given Netflix’s relatively sexless handling of YA, to see two characters repeatedly fall into a real bed) we crashes in August, on the eve of their scheduled breakup.
The rest of the film follows their big final date, which of course stems from a mutually agreed romantic farewell to the painful tangle of emotions Clare had hoped to avoid. There’s inevitably some heartache and apprehension for the future, plus B-plot hijinks from friends Scotty (Nico Haraga, playing essentially the same stoner-y blunder with a heart of gold than in Netflix’s other teen films Booksmart and Moxie) and Stella (Ayo Edebiri, playing a less mature version of her sardonic character in The Bear, this summer’s surprise TV hit).
Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between, directed by Michael Lewen, doubles down on the TATBILB aesthetic – atmospheric pop music, cropped skirts and tops, bubbly bottled chemistry of naturalistic veining, enviable homes in the Pacific Northwest, the specter of l distant college elite, a racially diverse cast, wholesome parties where no one actually gets drunk. Like its parent, the film successfully targets the emotional dissonance of being a suburban teenager – chaotic, wildly intense emotions in a stable and fundamentally conservative environment.
Ryder, who impressed as a teenager by helping her cousin get an out-of-state abortion in the dark indie drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, is making Clare’s breakup plan look less like a clumsy plot only to the real answer of one person at a time. scared, confused and intimidated by the future. Doe-eyed and almost quivering with emotion, she radiates an internal tension and presumably circumvents a very adolescent logic – confusing denying her feelings with maturity, confusing the arbitrary end of things with independence. Fisher, a more forced actor playing a more suave character, still manages to match his naturalism. The two have easy intimacy; you never doubt that Clare and Aidan love each other, the 18-year-old way, and that way means a lot.
Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between works because, despite everything, this seriousness – as cheesy as it may be, as formulaic as the rhythms sometimes are, as ridiculous as Clare and Aidan’s situation may sometimes seem, it never loses of view that their feelings matter. The film never pierces the sanitized surface of its aesthetic, but it digs into the specifically adolescent illusion that you can avoid the mess of endings, that you can throw yourself into deep feelings and come out unscathed. That you can control your emotions, that you can avoid being hurt. He accomplished what few of his peers have been able to do: make me believe in a teenage romance, actually remember the confusion of growing up, and feel content with an ending that points to an open-book future.