With movie theaters maybe never opening for the rest of the year it is hard to get new movies to review weekly since I don’t want to spend the $20 to rent (since I barely spend that much going to the theater) home releases. This brings me to a double feature look at something I never would normally watch, The Kissing Booth and its recently released sequel.
This might come as a surprise to all, but my favorite film, no qualifiers, full out, non stop favorite movie of all time is Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan. I say this to make it clear that I like teenage centered romantic comedies. I like them a lot. So when I say that the first Kissing Booth is a fine enough version of that kind of story with the sequel being an honest to god continuation and improvement of what came before.
To go into detail, the first movie follows Elle Evans, an adorkable girl, dateless, going into her sophomore year of high school. She is twins with her best friend next door Lee and has a crush on Lee’s older brother Noah, the resident bad boy hottie. When the school fundraiser comes around Lee and Elle come up with the idea for a kissing both. Hijinx ensues after Elle ends up kissing Noah blindfolded and they must question their relationship.
As stated above it is a good enough version of one of these teen rom coms. It is exceedingly earnest, funnier than average, but too standard, uneven in the production and tone, and shallow for its own good.
What makes it all work is the cast. Oddly enough the cast is great all around. Even the bit players at the school all feel like real. Even the really cheesy moments work because all the casting is strong. They also help build the comedic moments in a great tightrope.
Unfortunately it is incredibly standard as far as these things go. It might be hard to believe considering how over complicated the incidting incident is, but beyond that it’s a girl falls for the bad boy story. It doesn’t help that much of the relationship is built in montage, and not a whole lot of time with the characters. It doesn’t help the production is stale. The only thing that feels like it really has money and time in was the school, which is a whole problem unto itself. Outside of that if I kind of standard Los Angeles scenery and backdrops.
What honestly makes the movie bad is how the earnest nature clashes with the comedy. It has some truly funny scenes, lines, and one note characters. It feels like it’s trying to be a full on farce but wants to have real “drama” making the movie less than what it could have been. The main example of this is their school. They clearly go to a high end prep school, but seems way too outlandish for something this earnest, but not funny or different enough to be anything other than odd. I mean the idea of a kissing booth is something that a school would never do in real life, like much of the sexualization that occurs at the school. It’s too much for an earnest story but just enough for a farce.
The final bothersome note is the mysongsny in the film. Despite Elle being a strong woman it feels like too much of the movie is centered around how guys feel about her, protect her, and don’t listen to her in ways that feel like they should. It all seems like standard romance stuff. The bad boy who really is just protective and looking out for you is an alluring trope but does fall into gross and possessiveness, something this movie does drip in a little too much.
In the end it’s not bad. Not terrible, but enjoyable enough. It secretly being a coming of age story at the end helps and make the ending more satisfying than it should be. I could see it being a good background movie if it were to just be on, but nothing outstanding.
The sequel is an incredibly consistent, maybe better, movie and is actually a direct sequel. It makes Netflix branding it Part 2 feel very right.
To explain, the movie picks up with Elle entering her senior year and is dealing lots of changes in her life. She’s dealing with her long distance relationship with Noah, an evolving friendship with Lee that is hindering Lee’s own relationship, and the new hottie Marco coming into her life with everything coming to a head at the kissing booth.
It’s odd to have a sequel where the first movies premise was so bare that a sequel would feel unnecessary, but it feels like a natural extension of the previous story. All of the previous story elements that worked, the chemistry, acting, and sincerity of the story being told are all on full display. On top of that it gives time to the characters. Lee and Elle have a more fleshed our relationship (and start a podcast with a whole 37 followers), additionally Lee and his girlfriend get more story time, and Elle and Noah’s relationship feels like it is honestly kind of tested.
However that is not what’s impressive. It’s impressive how it feels so much more tonally and thematically consistent it is overall. The series has moved from part farce/part drama to just a medium dramadey. This makes it less funny overall but has the drama hit harder and the characters more fleshed out. Additionally it is about more than what Elle’s narration (this time given form in a college admissions letter) says it is. It is honestly about the balance between friends and lovers and uses thematic parallels to great effect to make it feel far less paint by numbers even if it ends up filling in all the same.
The greatest choice of all however was moving the Kissing Booth to the climax instead of the inciting incident. It feels like such a simple and easy change that I feel dumb. This is going to be a terrible comparison but it is like how A New Hope and Force Awakens were so similar so Rian Johnson decided to make his film the reverse of Empire. It’s simple and works wonders for the pacing, though made me question the title for most of the film.
Oddly it is also less mysogoniatic than the first one. Elle feels like she makes her own choices and doesn’t have a bunch of men controlling her. Some of that actually gets consequences in this film making it work all the better in retrospect, though it is still a problem in the first movie.
The problems are also the same. The production is very flat, the orchestrated music is not good and relys too much on incidental tracks. The movie is also too long and has drama built on characters not knowing information or not being told information. It makes parts of the film stressful, but some of it is also kept from the audience to play as a reveal. It would make subsequent watches bothersome for sure.
Though it is hard to find problems because I’m invested in the characters now which is a sign for something.
I don’t think these are great or anything but I want more in the same way I want more of my favorite sitcoms. I just like these characters and want to spend more time with them and experience their journey. The sequel ends with an interesting cliffhanger that would make whichever sequel idea they go with all the more intriguing, but I will be there for it.
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