Look, let me start by telling you what I didn’t strongly dislike about the movie The Kissing Booth:
1. Its portrayal of an intimate and wholly platonic friendship between a teenage girl and boy.
2. Molly Ringwald, though I question why she agreed to be in this movie.
Aaaand, that’s pretty much it. But don’t think that stopped me from watching both The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2, and far be it for me to say it should stop you either. (You can also rest assured that I will watch The Kissing Booth 3—which has already been filmed and is set to be released in 2021—like it’s my damn job.) So far, both movies feel as if they were spliced together with pinking shears, wallpaper paste, sexism, and stale ideas. I expect the third one will be no different. So, hold on to your hats everyone, because we have a lot of patriarchy to plow through!
(There are spoilers ahead. Though I would argue the whole thing is already spoiled so it doesn’t much matter.)
Best friends Elle Evans (Joey King) and Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) were born on the same day at the same time in the same Los Angeles hospital. Their mothers had been best friends for years, and Elle and Lee also grew into inseparable friends. They share a love of dancing, specifically dancing on an arcade game at the Santa Monica Pier where they hold the high score. Their friendship is also based on a series of rules they came up with when they were seven-ish. The rules include things like only your best friend getting to know your birthday wish, not sharing your best friend’s secrets (solid advice), forgiving your best friend if they give you ice cream (also solid advice, though I prefer sorbet), and relatives of your best friend being off limits for crushes. The last one odd for seven year olds to come up with and pretty specific given that Elle only has a much younger brother and Lee only has one older, and coincidentally attractive, brother (or at least he’s broad shouldered, which pretty much counts as the same thing in these movies). I don’t remember any rules about the rules being subject to change or about being open and honest with your best friend if you feel like a rule is no longer tenable—or just not lying constantly to your best friend to try and pretend that you’re following the rules when you’re definitely not—any and all of which would have saved everyone a LOT of heartache AND saved me watching these movies. Alas, that was not to be.
We meet Elle and Lee on the cusp of starting their junior year of high school. It turns out that Elle has been breaking the rules for years by harboring a secret crush on Lee’s older brother Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi), who she assumes is too busy sleeping his way through all the girls at their fancy Los Angeles private school, where he is about to start his senior year, to notice her as anything other than Lee’s bestie. But is he too busy?!? (He’s not, but you already guessed that.) Especially since over the summer Elle’s body has changed, as teenagers’ bodies tend to do, and she now has breasts and hips, which as we all know are THE most important thing about a woman.
Anyway, because of said hips (and apparently a thorough lack of foresight or basic back-to-school shopping), when Elle gets dressed for her first day of school the pants to her uniform split open. Any back up pants are at the dry cleaners—where they’ve apparently been all summer? I have questions. Whatever. Logic is useless here. What does Elle do? Does she find pants that are not the uniform, but fit properly? Nope. Does she tie a sweater around her waist and hope for the best? Nuh uh. No, Elle puts on last year’s too-small, pleated uniform skirt that barely covers her bottom or her vulva. Friends, I simply CANNOT with such an egregious expression of some stereotypical, misogynistic schoolgirl fantasy. I mean, what the fuck? It’s gross. And shouldn’t your bestie tell you when your underwear are hanging out? My best friends would. Hell, any given stranger in the communal women’s dressing room at Filene’s Basement would. But somehow Elle’s father does not and Lee does not, so she gets to school and everyone, but especially the guys are staring at her and she has no idea why (which is also some hetero-toxic male fantasy of a woman being so pure that she doesn’t even realize how sexy and beautiful she is, or some horseshit like that).
Then, some guy (whose name I absolutely refuse to learn) smacks her on the ass. So hilarious, right? Hilarious to have a (presumably) well-off white boy act as if the body of a young woman is public property. That always ends super well for women. I swore at the screen and then double checked this movie wasn’t made in the 1980s. It wasn’t. And let’s be REAL clear here, I don’t care if someone is only wearing only underwear or if they are stark-fucking-naked, it does not give anyone at all the right to touch them. Ever.
So then Noah, Lee’s brother, in case the rage you might be feeling has clouded your short-term memory, who has some anger management issues, starts beating the guy up, which upsets Elle, which, rightfully so because women don’t need your performative violence perpetrated in the defense of their bodies. Elle, Noah, and the other guy get pulled into the headmaster’s office where they all get detention. Elle for breaking dress code. The Nameless Prick for smacking her ass. And Noah for fighting. Because those are all equal offenses, obviously. Oh sure, there is some feeble attempt to make it seem like the writer gets sexism by Elle pointing out that Noah is victim blaming when he suggests she was asking for it by wearing a short skirt, but at best that’s some placating bullshit they’re peddling and at worst they really believe in the bullshit they’re peddling.
Dear sweet stale gummy bears, I’m already exhausted. But press on we must!
The Nameless Prick parades through detention wearing a uniform skirt, thus earning Elle’s forgiveness and scoring a date with her. Yes, please, let’s do make the guy who just sexually assaulted her into a viable love interest. That’s definitely not gross or problematic. We should definitely teach girls that unwanted touching is a compliment and boys that the way to get a girl’s attention is to harass her. But wait my friends because it gets even better! (By which I obviously mean worse!) The Nameless Prick doesn’t show up for the date, so now Elle is left thinking she’s undesirable, which is also so often a tactic of predatory men, right?!? BUT it turns out that Noah has told all the guys in school that they may not date Elle or he will beat them up. Why? Because, my delicate violets, he knows “how guys are” and “what they want” because he himself is a guy like that, except when it comes to Elle who only brings out his truest intentions when it comes to sex. I’m assuming we are supposed to swoon at this act of gallantry, and trust me when I say I did swoon, but from rage and not romance. Elle is filled with confusing emotions. I want to reach into the computer and tell her that this is definitely not a solid foundation for a relationship and she should get the fuck out while the getting is good.
Meanwhile, Lee and Elle plan a kissing booth to support the dance team (of which they may be the only members) at the school fundraiser. They promise to have Noah there as a kisser, even though Noah has said he absolutely won’t participate. Elle gets drunk and strips down in public. Noah “saves” her from other men seeing her dance in her underwear. Elle accidentally ends up in the boy’s locker room and maybe again strips down to “assert her independence.” No. Just, no.
The kissing booth happens. And while I didn’t like that the kissing booth scenes mostly only have heterosexual kissing and that it relies heavily on stereotypes, I did like that it’s at least showing teenagers participating in some healthy sexual experimentation. Perhaps that’s too generous. Anyway, the popular girls are annoyed that Noah isn’t there—and it’s always made clear that Elle isn’t like the other girls, which is something that so enrages me that it definitely shouldn’t be limited to this aside, but here we are, so I’m just going to say that we all know that’s a sexist trap and there is no right (or wrong) way to be a girl—so they trick Elle into going out to kiss a less attractive boy (insert eye roll here), but Noah cuts the line and (GASP!) he and Elle kiss. In all fairness, when I was a teenager I would have most certainly thought this was entirely romantic. I’m not blaming the teenagers who are into this movie, I’m blaming the adults who are selling this crap as romance.
Elle and Noah then embark on a secret affair where they have a lot of sex under the Hollywood sign, which is his special place that he shares with Elle because she is also so very special (holy Sour Patch Kids that has some creepy energy, huh?). It is also is probably a pretty icky place to take off your clothes. Then they get found out. There is much fighting with Lee. Lee and Elle make up. Noah leaves for college at Harvard (which, of course Harvard!) and things with Elle and Noah are left up in the air.
I mean, let’s pause and look at some of this sexist drivel. Does Noah feel bad for all the girls he’s been making out and having sex with? Does he really not realize that he must have a reputation among the girls for being incredibly easy to hook up with, and that they’re as much using him for physical pleasure as he is using them? And that, assuming it’s all consensual and protected, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of experimentation? And look, Noah and I agree that Elle doesn’t need to go on a date with the Nameless Prick, but she certainly doesn’t need Noah to somehow try protect her from her own emerging sexuality in some icky paternalistic way, which is essentially the entire premise of this movie. And can’t we all just agree that this idea that some woman is so perfect that she’s going to stop a man’s penis from wandering off to visit other vaginas is foolish and sexist? Plus, Elle has the ability to curb Noah’s impulses toward violence, something no one else can do. Apparently no one has considered that he perhaps needs some therapy for that instead of hefting the responsibility of controlling his impulses onto his girlfriend. I mean sure, people can be good influences on each other, but that’s not what this is. No, this is an outdated and totally sexist idea that the right woman, one who is obviously pure of heart (and preferably with an intact hymen) will be able to tame a man’s worst animal instincts. None of it is romantic. It’s promoting a toxic form of masculinity and it’s idealizing women. Neither of those have ever gotten us anywhere worth going. Plus, women don’t need to be idealized. They’re already badass.
I know I said this was a review of both movies, but I’m tired and the second movie is basically a (much longer) remix of the first movie, but with the introduction of Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez) a new hot guy at school, a dance competition, lots of very forced miscommunications, some forced reconciliations, and Elle lying her face off to everyone again, but this time the lies are mostly about college. (Seriously, the third movie should just be Elle getting therapy so she’s no longer afraid to just say what she wants.)
The first movie feels like the writer/director, Vincent Marcello, took every bad instinct, every sexist trope, every single backwards thing that’s been crammed down our throat as romantic, and shoved them into one movie. And then, since the world is literally overflowing with sexism couched as romanticism, he and Netflix realized they could make at least two more movies before they ran out of bad ideas. Honestly, I could go on for another 2,000 words, but I will spare you (and my blood pressure) more prose about these movies and the ding dongs who made them.
Phew, after all that how about I tell you something entirely trite that bothered me to no end? A snark palate cleanser, if you will. When Noah leaves for college he only takes one carry on bag. ONE! There’s not even enough room in that bag for all the grooming products that Noah Flynn must need to keep himself looking so perfectly like he doesn’t use any grooming products. Apparently this is a pet peeve of mine. It’s up there with people in movies or shows wearing their shoes on the bed. What is that?!? Ew. No. Blech. Which pretty much sums up my feelings on these movies as well. (But I’d still put money on me watching the third one within a week of it’s release.)