A slight improvement over its predecessor, The Kissing Booth 2 is nonetheless a tortuously overlong affair that amounts to very little by the end.
This review of The Kissing Booth 2 is spoiler-free.
The Kissing Booth, which debuted on Netflix to instant and absurd popularity, was – all together now! – “problematic”. It was about a young woman caught between a platonic but nonetheless weirdly obsessive and controlling relationship with her male best friend and a romance with his more handsome but equally unhinged older brother. Our critic rightly hated it, as did most others, and I think if we’re being frank it earned the labels of dodgy and uncomfortable much more than most of the films that tend to be accused of such things. Then again, the source material was self-published on Wattpad by then-15-year-old Beth Reekles, so I’m not sure how much thematic sophistication people were really expecting.
Nevertheless, its target audience lapped it up, and thus we have The Kissing Booth 2, which is better than its predecessor in the same way that drowning is better than being burned alive; though it’s worth noting that both drowning and burning kill in a few minutes, whereas this film inexplicably runs for over two hours. Predictably, it struggles to justify a single minute after the first sixty or so.
Anyway, Elle (Joey King) is fresh off a romantic summer with her hunky but volatile boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi, becoming something of an expert in playing violent, controlling jocks), who has relocated a few thousand miles away to begin a freshman year at Harvard fraught with the temptations of gorgeous British co-eds like Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Elle, meanwhile, is consigned to planning her own academic future, as well as not being a controlling, jealous type by devoting her attention to Noah’s younger brother Lee (Joel Courtney) and interfering in his flourishing romance with their classmate Rachel (Meganne Young).
This is a dull setup in and of itself, so it’s almost a relief that returning writer-director Vince Marcello elects to turn up the utter ridiculousness of some later twists and turns, including a Dance Dance Revolution tournament for Elle’s tuition money played to the absolute hilt. But most of the drama is in how Elle and Noah navigate a long-distance relationship despite the presence of Chloe, a handsome new classmate, Marco (Taylor Zakhar), who Elle has her eyes on, and Elle’s enduring, sacrosanct “agreements” with Lee, which would be violated by her indulging Noah’s request that she apply to Harvard to be with him. This, of course, is assuming that Elle’s clinginess with her bestie doesn’t open up a rift that swallows them both.
Needless to say, none of this justifies the egregious runtime, but more damagingly none of it really seems to amount to much of anything – even a resolution. You’d think this was Netflix’s typical sequel-bait strategy but feels much more like nobody could make up their minds about the best way to conclude these rivalrous subplots and just didn’t bother. Such a limp denouement after two hours and ten minutes of Netflix YA romance seems a particularly difficult pill to swallow, even if this well-intentioned sequel bothered to sugar coat it by giving Elle a bit more agency and a healthier relationship.
Some minor improvements such as these do little to distract from how routinely The Kissing Booth 2 hits the expected beats and how long it takes to amount to virtually nothing at all. Fans will find some of the same things they liked about the first film here, perhaps more of them than even they were expecting, but anyone expecting more than the bare minimum for this kind of thing will be left sorely disappointed.