Well friends, at long, long last we have arrived at the final installment of The Kissing Booth series. Wait. Is it the final installment? I realized I don’t have confirmation of that, and they could very well keep churning these movies until we reach The Kissing Booth: The Geriatric Years. But let’s work on the assumption that The Kissing Booth is a trilogy that ends here and now. While the third movie was far, far (FAR) heavier on fluff, filler, and call-backs to the previous two movies than actual plot, it does eventually manage to land Elle (Joey King) in a pretty good place—and halle-friggin’-lujah and about damn time to that! I was so relieved that I wasn’t even too bothered that much of that storyline may well be cribbed from the ending to certain other much-loved Netflix rom-com trilogy. Anyway, my main takeaways from this final movie (extra emphasis intentional) is that Molly Ringwald makes everything better and I never want to see another list woven into the plot of a movie ever again. Was it initially a cute plot-device for teen rom-coms? Yes. Did The Kissing Booth absolutely overuse it to the point that I started to scream uncontrollably at the mere mention of the word “list” by any of the characters? Also yes. And finally, that movies are still using love and romantic gestures to excuse a whole lot of very scary and very toxic behaviors in men, which is gross.
You can almost always consider it a bad sign when a movie starts with a montage, which this one does as Lee (Joel Courtney), his girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young), Elle, and Noah (Jacob Elordi) take a trip to Northern California. Elle still hasn’t told anyone that she’s been accepted to both Berkeley and Harvard. Choosing Harvard will break her childhood promise to Lee to go to college with him (it was on their list of rules, obviously) and choosing Berkeley will disappoint her boyfriend and Lee’s older brother Noah, who wants her to live off-campus with him at Harvard. (No, freshmen cannot live off-campus. Yes, I checked.) So she’s lying like a rug to everyone by saying that she’s still wait-listed to both schools. Meanwhile, she’s getting phone calls from the admissions offices at both universities reminding her that the deadline for her decision is looming.
Please do try to explain this plot point to someone with a straight face. I know I could not do it without dissolving into giggles. Berkeley admits around 15,000 first-year students each year, so you can see how the image of some admissions person sitting down to call this one applicant who can’t get her shit together to respond could make one titter. Harvard admitted about 1,900 to its class of 2025, so maybe you could argue that someone might make a personal phone call to a particularly outstanding applicant (we have zero evidence that Elle is such a candidate), but several phone calls when said applicant lets the calls go to voicemail? That starts to feel like Science Fiction. I’m sorry. I’m getting distracted, but come on! It’s not without good reason.
Adding to her stress, Elle finds out that Lee and Noah’s parents (Molly Ringwald and some other guy) have decided to sell their beloved beach house. Elle and Lee, who get maudlin about pretty much anything from their past, are entirely distraught about this. Lee’s girlfriend Rachel just stands awkwardly in the background while these two wax poetic about the good times of yesteryear. And I forget what Noah does because his character really bothers me, so I try to ignore him when at all possible. But in all seriousness, it would be very traumatic to be told the beach house where you’ve been staying every year of your life was suddenly going to be sold. But does it deserve quite so much of this movie’s run-time and innumerable montages? Signs point to no.
We’re treated to a montage of Elle and Lee trying to clean out the house of their old toys and belongings. My friend aptly pointed out that these people might be serious pack rats if they still have toddler clothes and baby toys just laying around in the open instead of at least packed away in boxes. I’m getting distracted again. There are just so many things that do not make sense, and I feel it’s my duty to warn you. What is very important is that in the playroom of the beach house they also find the Beach Bucket List of amazing things they wanted to accomplish over the summer when they were kids. That’s right, an untouched list of things they still wish to accomplish. What an utterly unexpected and exciting turn of events. Who could have predicted another fucking list?!? Me. You. And people who have never seen this movie. That’s who. This list will become a key plot point…Mmm, is plot the right word? More like a key vehicle for several montages, a very small percentage of which are endearing or vaguely entertaining.
Elle, Noah, Lee, and Rachel convince Molly Ringwald and the guy playing Molly Ringwald’s husband that the four of them can look after the beach house and keep it show-ready all summer, thus saving the parents long drives and earning themselves a parent-free house. At the same time Elle is forced (by deadlines) to choose a college and, much to Lee’s hurt and disappointment, she chooses Harvard and Noah. In an attempt to soften the blow and assuage his hurt feelings, she offers that they can complete every item on the Beach Bucket List, therefore making it the Best Summer EvAAAAARRRRR. I don’t know about this, you know? Lee absolutely has every right to be hurt, but it’s not Elle’s job to live her life just to make him happy. And for the love of my bleeding ears, please do not say anything about the list of rules. But more on all that in just a minute.
Look, I’ve made no secret of my many issues with these movies, but I do stand by Lee and Elle’s platonic, loving, and intimate friendship. There are no secret crushes. No lingering gazes. No last minute declarations of love. No drunken fumbling. These two are actually heterosexual opposite gender best friends, and holy shirtballs it’s just refreshing to see. (There is one very odd moment—which is still totally platonic—toward the end of the movie that was supposed to be touching, but I texted my friend that it was creepy at the exact same time that she texted me to say it was weird. When you find it please text me so we can discuss because boy howdy were some choices were made.)
In typical Elle fashion, she tries to do the Bucket List with Lee, hold down a job, spend time with Noah, and help out her dad (who, much to her chagrin, has started dating again) with caring for her younger brother without ever communicating that she’s a wee bit overwhelmed and doesn’t have time to be everything to everyone all the damn time. On the one hand, Elle should definitely be straight with them. On the other hand, open your fucking eyes men and notice that she’s run absolutely ragged and THAT’s why she keeps showing up late or not showing up at all. Women were not actually put on this planet just to please you. As if the competition between Lee and Noah for Elle’s attention and affection wasn’t enough drama, who should just happen to show up in the same unnamed beach town? Marco! You remember Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez) of the smooth dancing, the handsome face, and the strong attraction to Elle? What are the chances that she would bump into him?!? I NEVER saw that coming. (Of course I did, and that’s the beauty of watching movies like this one.)
And wouldn’t you just know it, he still has many romantical feelings for Elle. His presence elicits much jealousy in Noah, and, unfortunately, brings out Noah’s all-too-familiar manipulative, borderline abusive, paternalistic side that we’ve seen so many times before in the previous two movies. He doesn’t trust Elle. He gets pissed. Then he wants to make it up to her with a bajillion lit candles and a romantic dinner, but he gets upset all over again when she has other plans. Always beware a man who comes offering over-the-top romantic gestures and too many lit candles as an apology. Soft lighting can make manipulative behavior look a whole lot like romance and remorsefulness. And I will NEVER forgive Noah Flynn or the people behind this movie for allowing Cyndi Lauper and “Time After Time” to be dragged into his controlling behavior. Do you hear me? NEVER!
For a solid portion of this movie, I just wished that everyone involved would look into a good family therapist or mediator, but they did not do that. But, as I’ve said from the very beginning, Molly Ringwald is among the very few good things about these movies, and she is the one who tells Elle to find her own passions and follow her own dreams and to not live just to make other people in her life happy. Does the movie then undermine that advice a bit with the ending? I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I also probably wouldn’t ask if the answer was anything but yes. (Also, this movie is not that good to begin with so isn’t everything already spoiled?)
Also, since Elle makes her college decision so early in the two-hour run-time (oh, you read that right), much of the movie is made of bloated montages of the wild things they do as they check things off the bucket list. It’s extremely exhausting to watch. Much like the previous two movies, this one feels like it is held together with misplaced wishes, masking tape, and chewed bubble gum.
And then there are a lot of (far too many) smaller storylines, most of which are as hazy and undefined as the sky at the beach during June Gloom. It’s honestly not worth either of our time to lay them all out here, especially since some of them just kind of disappear like fog in the mid-morning sun, and all them are neatly resolved by convenient six-year jump at the end of movie that leaves all the main characters (including the eponymous Kissing Booth) happily headed into their futures. Hopefully without us setting eyes on them ever again. Anyway, I’m off to try to keep a straight face while explaining to more people how admission officers from Harvard and Berkeley personally called Elle—a perfectly adequate student with no clearly established academic interests—multiple times to ask if she’d made a decision, because that is far more entertaining than almost any other part of The Kissing Booth trilogy.