A scene from the movie 'The Kissing Booth 2' on Netflix

‘The Kissing Booth 2’ Depicts an Unrealistic High School Experience, Again

While the sequel may be totally different than your own high school days, it does paint a picture of the experience we all wished we had.
August 11, 2020
7 mins read

I’m no film critic, but if there’s anything I know about movies, it’s that sequels rarely outperform the originals. Instead, they set up innocent fans who have been eagerly waiting for months (or in really dismal cases, years) for disappointment. “The Kissing Booth 2” doesn’t face high stakes, though, as its original counterpart received a measly score of 17% by film critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the end of July, Netflix released “The Kissing Booth 2,” a sequel to the original teen romantic comedy with the same name. The original, which premiered in 2018, tells the story of 16-year-old Elle Evans (Joey King) and the chaos that ensues when she and her best friend, Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney), create a kissing booth to raise money for their school’s dance club.

Tension arises between the two when Elle winds up kissing Lee’s older brother, football heartthrob Noah (Jacob Elordi), at the booth. Elle and Noah begin a secret relationship to prevent Lee from becoming angry, since Elle has promised Lee, who she has been friends with since birth, that she would never date his older brother.

The Original

I watched “The Kissing Booth” the summer before I left for college. Like most movies in the teen rom-com genre, I couldn’t believe how inaccurately it portrays the high school experience (at least, how inaccurately it portrays the high school experience I’m familiar with).

The movie, set in a world where high schoolers drive Mustangs to school and don’t have acne-studded faces, makes viewers who have actually been to high school (and survived it) question whether they missed something while there. Well-groomed actors who actually graduated high school 5 to 10 years ago play preppy teens who throw parties on the beach while strutting half-naked in well-chiseled bodies. As a result, viewers can’t help but think “there’s no way that kid is 16.”

A questionable plot line overlays the movie’s unrealistic setup, as it centers around the idea that a motorcycle-riding football player who beats kids up in the school parking lot can have his heart softened by his younger brother’s klutzy best friend. The premise, which breaks down typical high school social boundaries, can be seen as endearing, but its highly romanticized execution ultimately reinforces the notion that similar situations will only likely occur in the movies.

With Elle’s overstated narration and a literal light-shattering kiss, content-wise, the “The Kissing Booth” didn’t satisfy my thirst for a realistic and groundbreaking high school rom-com. Let’s face it, a kissing booth would never be able to whittle its way through the strict nature of modern-day school policies. Still, I found myself (a little guiltily) pulled into the movie, having stakes in the gorgeous characters and their better-than-real-life outcomes. So naturally, when “The Kissing Booth 2” came out on Netflix, I had to sit down and watch it.

Round Two 

“The Kissing Booth 2” continues where the original left off, with Elle and Noah still in a relationship — one that Lee both knows and approves of this time — albeit a long-distance one, as Noah begins college at Harvard University and Elle remains in high school. The movie builds suspense by introducing other attractive characters who serve as potential romantic interests, making viewers unsure if Elle and Noah will last. All of this leads right up to Elle and Lee’s second kissing booth fundraiser.

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Similar to other teen romantic comedies, most of the conflict in “The Kissing Booth 2” occurs due to a lack of communication, which by the end of the film has its way of somehow working itself out without putting too much strain on the characters’ relationships. The movie takes a while to do this, though, as it goes on for a whopping 2 hours and 11 minutes, lasting almost as long as “Forrest Gump,” which chronicles 30 years of a man’s life in about the same amount of time.

Moreover, scenes involving the kissing booth don’t happen until an hour and 45 minutes into the movie, making what catalyzed most of the conflict in the original movie seem like a mere afterthought in the sequel. While the kissing booth does aid in resolving some of the conflict created earlier on, its short appearance likely has viewers wondering why writers would choose to name the movie “The Kissing Booth 2” when it has very little to do with the overall plot.

Like the original, “The Kissing Booth 2” has its fair share of plot holes and cringeworthy moments, causing viewers to question the plausibility of the characters’ circumstances. A highlight from the sequel includes Elle inadvertently talking about the sex appeal of new student Marco over the school’s loudspeaker for several minutes. Later on, she manages to win a Dance Dance Revolution contest made up of participants from all over the West Coast.

The Appealing High School Aesthetic 

Aside from its far-fetched plot line, the intended audience of the “The Kissing Booth” series puzzles me most. Forced laughter and overexaggerated eye rolls make the movie seem childish, almost as if it belongs on the Disney Channel. Content-wise, however, the movie includes swear words and directly mentions sex. With a TV-14 rating, “The Kissing Booth 2” seems intended for an older audience — high schoolers and beyond — people more likely to be turned off by its unrealistic premise and superficiality.

At the same time, if I found an original movie that captured my high school experience while scrolling through Netflix, I can’t say I would click on it. Who wants to watch a movie about their realistic (and in my case humdrum) teenage experience when they’ve witnessed it in person and for free at their local high school on a daily basis from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.?

In a time when people often value aesthetic over content and practicality, it makes sense that “The Kissing Booth” series would choose to glitz up high school with brawny men and California beaches. The more realistic alternative, consisting of sleep deprivation and braces infused with food particles, would serve as an unpleasant reminder of all the things about high school people try to overlook.

A few days after releasing “The Kissing Booth 2,” Netflix announced the third installment in the series, “The Kissing Booth 3,” which will be released sometime in 2021. I’m not expecting it to be an enlightening blockbuster that dives into the nuances of teenage years, just a two-hour stroll in a dream-world that blurs the boundaries between the consistency and reliability of high school with the freedom and glam of college. And again, I’ll sit down to watch it.

Kaitlyn Nuebel, University of Pittsburgh

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Kaitlyn Nuebel

University of Pittsburgh
Nonfiction Writing, Communication and Rhetoric

Kaitlyn Nuebel is an aspiring writer who reflects on art and culture to make sense of the world and the people living in it.

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