The Kissing Booth tells the story of how inseparable Elle and Lee honour a sacred list of rules they must each follow in order to remain best friends. When Elle develops a crush on Lee’s big brother, Elle threatens to break one of their most important rules, “Relatives of Best Friends are OFF LIMITS”.
Netflix has delivered a product of complete cringe, a cliched and overly dramatic coming of age story that is built on very little meaning and substance. The Kissing Booth invites you to follow Elle, a teenage girl battling with herself to ignore the crush she has on her best friend’s older brother. This older brother comes in the form of Noah, a stereotypical, “handsome” jock, who actually acts as an all-around douche, originally sexist and controlling in nature. Noah’s character constantly tries to passively control Elle, whether it’s by telling her how to behave, telling other people to stay away from her or by literally dragging her by the wrist out of a room she doesn’t want to leave. This behavior is somehow translated as being “protective” and Elle actually finds the behavior endearing and sweet, leading to her growing infatuation.
This being said The Kissing Booth isn’t all that different to other teenage dramas such as Twilight, where everything in a teen’s world is the be all and end all. Where flairs of emotion and even rough handling is interpreted as just being “really into someone”. I can see the appeal from an angsty teen’s point of view; dramatic rainfall scenes and passionate expressions of emotion really come to light in The Kissing Booth. I must say I really am no longer the audience of this kind of film, and feel a little out of place reviewing it. With this being said I will now try to be a little more objective about the film’s content.
The Kissing Booth, although a coming of age story, rarely demostrates examples of growth, with 2D characters and weak motives; the characters are often faltering in genuine intent. Pretty much all of the characters kind of “grow” (and by grow I mean snap completely from their former personalities) within the last ten minutes of the film. No character develops slowly nor with great reason, and the character arcs are almost inexplicable. No one seemed to work to become a better person, nor does the audience get to feel that they have earned their realisations or epiphanies. Instead, The Kissing Booth‘s main storylines are solved in an instant, completely out of the blue, a quick fix to lead to a “happy” ending.
Another big problem I have with The Kissing Booth is the complete trivialisation of sexual assault. Where Elle arrives at school wearing a revealing skirt (as her trousers had ripped that same morning) and she is greeted with people taking unsolicited upskirt photos and one guy grabbing her exposed backside by surprise. The perpetrator is given detention, fine, I wasn’t expecting anything more than that, as the movie seems to want to stay light, which is completely understandable. Yet, only a scene later the same guy manages to act cute enough that Elle actually gives him her number, as though the unwanted contact was actually quite charming in hindsight. This sends a terrible message to an impressionable audience and I really wish Netflix would take more care to not treat assault as playfulness.
Unfortunately, The Kissing Booth does not have any saving graces that come to mind easily. Instead, I would like to highlight again that I am no longer the intended audience of a flick like this. The Kissing Booth may appeal to teenagers, with it’s stereotyped high-schoolers and inclusion of familiar mishaps (we’ve all had embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions, I’m sure). Plenty of relatable topics pop up, and some possibly more relevant to teenage life; this would make for a more blissful watch from those of a similar age. The Kissing Booth would suit a sleep over perhaps, and could certainly sit well with teens going through similar dilemmas.
Overall The Kissing Booth was not my cup of tea, really cliched and clearly dated in areas. The Kissing Booth lacked meaning and I doubt it to be very influential. On the other hand, it’s intended audience may relish in the fun and recognisable characters, and find entertainment in the seemingly trivial disputes that seem all too real in a teenage mind. Lastly, I would like to say there are plenty of themes in The Kissing Booth that do not sit well with me; the way that some of the boys treat Elle is embarrassing and dangerous, and certainly, no teenager should take note that they are acceptable in any way.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.