Netflix has recently ventured into the ever-popular high school rom-com genre, with releases like “Reality High,” “F the Prom” and most recently, “The Kissing Booth.” When I first saw a trailer for “The Kissing Booth,” I thought it looked pretty cliché, but I was completely fine with that. I’ve always loved a good dumb, high school romance movie, and I figured this would be another one that I could mindlessly enjoy.
Boy, was I mistaken. The Netflix original began promisingly enough, and I even found myself liking the opening scenes, despite the film’s lazy reliance on voice-over narration to relay parts of the story. But once the actual romance began, things went downhill for me quickly.
“The Kissing Booth” stars Joey King (you might remember her starring in “Ramona and Beezus” alongside Selena Gomez) as a teenage girl named Elle who falls for her best friend Lee’s hot older brother, Noah, despite it being against their “friendship rules” for her to do so. First of all, does anyone in real life actually have rules with their best friends? As in, an actual list?
I know I don’t, but I’ve seen it done in teenage movies on more than one occasion, so I suppose someone out there is making friendships with a contract. This was just the first of many issues I had with “The Kissing Booth,” particularly concerning the three central characters.
The film opens to Elle getting ready to go to school when (oh no!) her pants rip in the back, right along her buttcrack. Not wanting to break the dress code by wearing something out of uniform, she dons an old school skirt that fits more like flowy underwear and displays her lower butt cheeks.
This scene is just the first instance of filmmakers sexualizing Elle’s body. Now, I know what you’re thinking: who cares? It’s a teen flick, of course there’s going to be some exposed flesh. And while I do acknowledge this viewpoint, there’s just something very icky about the way it’s done in “The Kissing Booth.”
There are scenes all throughout the movie that involve Elle undressing in some manner, most of which seem unnecessary. At one point, she gets drunk and strips down to her underwear at a party. In another scene, she runs around the boys’ locker room at school in her bra as some sort of act of defiance towards Noah.
Clearly, the filmmakers are using the female body in order to hold viewers’ attention. Although the actress playing Elle is legally an adult, the character being sexualized isn’t, which made me uncomfortable the whole movie. Not to mention, her face could still pass for a 14-year-old, even though her body looks mature.
The protagonist’s romantic counterpart, Noah, is well-known for being a typical bad boy, always getting in fights to protect his little brother and Elle. He’s even got a motorcycle. It is clear that Noah’s rakish, over-protective persona is supposed to be very attractive to the teenage audience.
I can definitely see many adolescent girls thinking of him as the hottest thing since freshly-baked bread — hell, five years ago, I might have felt the same. But now, all I see Noah as is a very problematic, unstable and scary guy. You know someone’s got a problem when his defining characteristic in the opening montage is that he’s always beating up other students.
He reminded me of Edward Cullen from “Twilight” in this way: protective of his woman in a way that’s supposed to be cute, but really comes off as possessive and somewhat abusive. The worst part is, teenage girls always eat this crap up. Sometimes, I think movies like this might be giving them the wrong idea of how they’re supposed to be treated in a relationship.
It’s okay for a guy to be protective of you, but not to the point where he’s trying to control everything you do. Noah displays this type of controlling behavior several times in the movie, but the worst instance of it is when it’s revealed that he has been stopping other guys from asking out Elle, long before they became romantically involved.
Some might view this as cute, protective behavior; I do not. It’s hella creepy and seems like it could lead to him never wanting her to leave the house if they stay together long enough.
“The Kissing Booth” lives up to its name when Elle has her first kiss with Noah at (surprise!) a kissing booth. They become an item shortly afterward but decide to keep it a secret so that Lee doesn’t find out. This leads to many a clandestine rendezvous shown in typical cutesy montage fashion.
However, it’s not long before Lee discovers their connection, in a scene that can be best described as overly melodramatic. He and Elle are both crying, and he lunges at his older brother before driving off, tears of teenage angst streaming down his face.
After this confrontation, Lee completely ceases contact with Elle, which leads me to my next big issue with “The Kissing Booth:” Lee is a shitty best friend. Not only does he drop his oldest, closest friend just because she starts dating his brother, he also barely hangs out with her after he gets his own girlfriend midway through the film.
During Elle’s drunken striptease, he does absolutely nothing to stop her, instead only cringing on the sidelines and watching like everyone else. What kind of a best friend does that?
He’s also a hypocrite. One of their “friendship rules” is to always celebrate one another’s successes, and while Elle is completely supportive of his relationship, he does not reciprocate. I understand that he is upset about her keeping her romantic life a secret, but his reaction to it all is completely overblown.
Elle confronts him about how ridiculous their “friendship rules” are near the end of the film, and it is probably the most satisfying scene for me because I completely agree. Lee should not get to dictate who she dates and vice versa. Being best friends does not mean that you have a monopoly over one another.
The film ends with Noah heading to college and Elle driving off on his motorcycle, thinking wistfully about how everything happened because of a kissing booth. I wouldn’t exactly give the booth that much responsibility, but I guess they have to make the movie’s name sentimental somehow.
“The Kissing Booth” is a film chockfull of clichés and problematic behavior that I’m sure will be loved by many tweens until they get old enough to see all its issues.