For reasons unknown to me, I recently settled in to watch the very hyped Netflix original The Kissing Booth. I heard that it wasn’t “your typical tween coming-of-age chick flick” and that it was worth a watch (like I’d care, I watch Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging like twice a week.)
I had high hopes for this movie. The story of a cute, shy sixteen-year-old who’d never been kissed, with a secret crush on a very tall boy is basically my high school experience. I was ready to shamefully gush over their adorable, yet completely unrealistic romance. But that was not the case. Instead, the movie left me angry at the characters, confused at the missing plot lines and bloody annoyed that I wasted my time watching this shit instead of the new season of Archer.
In summary, the movie revolves around Elle and Lee who have been friends since birth. Elle has loved Lee’s brother Noah forever, but she can’t date him because of their “friendship rules” which, in itself, is problematic. A kissing booth is held for a school fundraiser, Noah and Elle kiss and embark on their secret romance which inevitably destroys her friendship with Lee.
I could go on for days about why this movie is so bad, but I’ll try to keep it short.
- The whole movie revolves around objectifying Elle
The Kissing Booth is basically one big sexist mess, poorly dressed as female empowerment. It’s about two brothers who argue over the wants and needs of a girl who has no say in any of it.
In the first five minutes of the movie, Noah asks Elle, “When did you get the boobs?”
There’s then a bunch of references that Elle filled out over the summer break, and now she’s hot property. When her school pants rip, she’s forced to wear a skirt a few sizes too small to school; subsequently, she is cat-called by every male on campus and even slapped on the arse by some guy.
It seems like every five minutes she is taking her clothes off for some attempt at a narrative – she’s drunk at a party, getting Noah’s attention at the beach or making a point to Noah when he asks her to cover up in front of the males. The latter ends in her stripping and seductively dancing to express her independence. Half of me is all “yassss queen” while the other half feels sorry for a sixteen-year-old who has been portrayed as clever, kind and witty but is constantly given attention only for her sudden hotness.
She also thinks it’s totally valid to go on a date with the guy who slapped her arse in front of everyone.
- Noah is the definition of toxic masculinity
It’s the classic rom-com trope of the sweet girl falling for the bad boy – 10 Things I Hate About You, The Breakfast Club, Grease… you get the idea. But Noah isn’t just bad boy, he’s just an all-round bad person. While he has all the ingredients for your high school rebel (leather jacket, Harley Davidson, footballer) he’s not that great, often blaming his false sense of superiority and inherent need for violence on “how his brain is wired.”
Noah is constantly getting into fights in and out of school, and even bashing his own brother. He has a weird sense of control over Elle, banning guys from asking her out, and then threatening them when they do.
The biggest WTF moment is when Noah is tending to a wound on Elle’s face and Lee is totally convinced that Noah must have hit her. What the actual fuck?
- The plot is all over the place
It’s worth mentioning that the movie is narrated by Elle, which is basically a get out of jail free card for lazy film making. And while Elle annoyingly explains everything that happens on the screen, as if the viewers can’t understand basic human interaction, the narration doesn’t even explain the stuff we don’t understand.
The beginning of the movie is a hyper-speed montage of Elle and Lee’s relationship up until now. They were “raised as twins” because their mums were best friends who happened to give birth on the same day – but during Elle’s early teens, her mother dies. Here are some issues: her mother’s death is never revisited; there’s no explanation as to why the mums were friends; we never see the families interact even though they “have lunch together every Sunday”; and Elle greets Lee’s mum as if they haven’t seen each other in years, despite basically living in her house.
Also, the concept of Elle and Noah ever pursuing each other romantically makes zero sense. She’s known Noah since birth as well. You know what I call my older, male, family friend who I’ve known forever? My cousin.
And despite the movie seemingly revolving around Elle and Lee’s “friendship rules”, they’re only ever mentioned to fill in plot holes or extra lines.
Oh, and the actual KISSING BOOTH has little to no relevance to the plot.
- The whole movie is a medley of scenes from other rom-coms
Almost every scene in The Kissing Booth is uncomfortably familiar. That’s when you realise that the directors have just picked one scene from every rom-com ever made to create one atrocity of a movie. The lovable bad boy isn’t the only commonality between The Kissing Booth and the former classics.
The scene when Elle accidentally gets drunk at a party and dances on a table to spite Noah is almost the same scene from 10 Things I Hate About You.
The romantic montage of Noah and Elle’s dates looks disgustingly like the opening scenes of Grease, when Danny and Sandy kiss and frollick on the beach.
The closing song is a cover of “Don’t You Forget About Me” which was made famous in The Breakfast Club. Originally, I thought it was paying a cool homage to Molly Ringwald (who plays Noah and Lee’s mother), but it felt like they just couldn’t be bothered finding another song that suited the end of a movie.
And last but certainly not least, there is a scene in The Kissing Booth where the lead male character called Noah (yes, Noah) tells Elle to “forget what everyone else wants” and mutters the words: “what do you want?” Sound familiar?
The storyline itself is stereotypical and incoherent, which makes sense since the book was originally written as fan-fiction by a teen. However, the movie itself is just lazy. While it had multiple opportunities to make some important social statements against sexism, it does quite the opposite.
I’m left with more questions than answers, and Elle and Noah’s height difference is more painful than cute. However, I will give credit to Joey King, because despite her shitty character development, she is a likeable and effective actor.
The biggest problem with The Kissing Booth is how much I would have liked this movie as a teenager – and if that’s what they’re going for, the writers and directors seriously need to work on their female empowerment game.