I’m so sorry this is happening, for you and for myself! I felt like watching a dumb movie because I love bad movies — not mediocre ones, but the kind that are so bereft of quality that you wonder if everyone on set was hypnotized into participation. At first I meandered through the Christian romance section of Netflix, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on any of the options. They looked depressingly bad, not bad in a fun way.
I ended up watching The Kissing Booth, and readers! I’m so sorry to say that I was charmed! I enjoyed the whole thing, which is not to say that it’s good, but I had a good time watching it. I don’t not recommend it! But I cannot in good faith stake my reputation on recommending this motion picture. My feelings are confusing. Why, I’m just as shaken up as a gal at a school-sanctioned kissing booth.
Please walk with me through this journey.
This film begins with narration from the main character Elle saying that she and her best friend Lee were born at the same minute in the same hospital and their moms were lifelong best friends. Right off the bat, that’s overkill. Pick one or the other but it seems like a very weird coincidence that lifelong best friends would time their labor so precisely. I don’t know if you could do that if you tried!
I can’t even puzzle over that one, though, because when Elle’s voiceover says their moms were always friends they show this snapshot:
…and I was like holy shit, their moms met Molly Ringwald? No, one of their moms is Molly Ringwald? One of their moms was friends with Molly Ringwald while she was filming Pretty in Pink and all those other Brat Pack movies? What did the other mom think about this? Was she jealous of her friend’s success, being besties with John Hughes’s teen muse? How much of this is gonna factor into the story? And then I realized that Molly Ringwald, the actress, is playing a character, of a mom, here, which makes sense, because she’s an actress, and I should know this, as I am, myself, an actress. But the problem is if you drop in an 80s picture of Molly Ringwald I’m gonna see MOLLY RINGWALD. I can accept that the “Molly Ringwald” who shows up later in the movie is an actress playing a mom, duh. But this picture really threw me. I missed part of the voiceover because then I started wondering if this film takes place in a world where none of the Brat Pack movies were made, or if they were made with a different, in-universe muse. I’m getting so worked up here that I want to lay down a rule like “no famous people playing regular people in movies!” which simply isn’t how Hollywood works. We are — and this is completely true — 42 seconds into the movie.
We get a montage of Lee and Elle growing up with chipper, fast-paced narration from Elle. Except for certain moments where she takes the pep way down and says things like “and then my mom got sick” in a sober voice…and then the fun music comes back in and she’s like “I started playing soccer! I got my first bra!” until the next milestone in childhood where her mom’s illness gets worse when she gets serious again. It is a bizarre choice, and I was thrilled that I had found the batshit-terrible movie I was looking for.
And then the actual leads of the movie, not their childhood counterparts, showed up and the actors were great! What an unexpected turn of events. I loved them, I’m sorry, it’s dumb, I hate it. Elle is played by Joey King, and I bet that Elle King, the singer who’s also Rob Schneider’s daughter, probably got a lot of annoying Google alerts when this casting was announced. That’s besides the point. The point is Joey King is really great! Bubbly and spunky and dorky in a way that doesn’t feel at all forced — she’s not a pretty ingenue playing adorkable but instead seems like a genuine goofball who happens to be a real cutie. Her face looks like if you blended Alexis Bledel and Chloe Grace Moretz together. Lee is played by Joel Courtney, and he’s great too! Normally this role would be cast with a more annoying kid — I don’t know, I’m just grasping at references here, someone like Jon Cryer — to signal that she’s gonna end up with a hottie instead (more of an Andrew McCarthy type). But Joel Courtney is perfectly cute, so I was able to pick up what this film was putting down. It’s a best-friends-fall-in-love movie. A classic of the genre.
A twist comes in immediately, which is that she realizes she has a crush on Lee’s older brother. This movie has fooled me. The older brother, Noah, is played by a dude named Jacob Elordi and I just Googled his age so I could be like “and he’s 35 years old!” but The Kissing Booth has pulled the wool over my eyes yet again. He was born in 1997, making him but 2 years older than Joey King and 1 year younger than the actor playing his younger brother. I was hoodwinked because he’s ridiculously tall and beefy. He’s a big, clean-cut, athletic preppy-looking dude. He’s a total Winklevoss!
A lot of the plot points in this movie are so contrived that they feel like fan fiction or porn, or the kind of fan fiction that’s real porny. I correctly guessed that this was based on a YA novel from the childhood montage running express with stops at family tragedy and sadness. However, I only learned from Googling that this was based on a self-published YA novel. So that might account for the extent to which you have to suspend your disbelief. On Elle’s first day of school, for instance, she rips her school uniform pants because she has had a growth spurt over the summer. A lady growth spurt. In the boobs and butt area.
So she has to wear an old skirt to school that barely covers her ass and all the boys turn into cartoon wolves whose eyes pop out and their tongues flop onto the ground and they yell “a-WOO-ga!” when she shows up. Metaphorically. Someone does literally yell, “Is that girl new?!” which I thought was absurd but as I’m typing it out I’m remembering the time a regular at my work exclaimed “Oh, you’re new!” the first time I wore a low-cut top after 8 months of working there, so. Men are bad and that checks out, I guess.
A boy tries to grope Elle because short skirts = consent in some people’s minds, so bestie Lee threatens to fight him. But Lee’s not made for fighting. He’s a wimpy boy. So out of nowhere, Noah the Hunky Brother shows up to punch the groper.
Now I’m operating under the assumption that this will be a movie wherein Wimpy Friendzoned Lee pines after the Newly Buxom Elle who is herself pining for the Hunky Violent Bad Boy Older Boy Older Brother Boy Noah, but surely in the end Lee and Elle will realize they belong together because they were literally born at the same time in the same place. Their star charts are identical.
Bamboozled yet again by this film! It doesn’t go that way at all!
Oh, we get lots of tropes of the genre. There’s the trio of popular girls played by actresses in their late 20s who wear heels in high school and are terrible at acting and seem to be allowed to wear fashion-forward interpretations of the uniform while everyone else has to wear uniform uniforms. There’s a party where Elle gets drunk for the first time. There’s prom, and if you have to ask if there’s drama at this prom… well, I don’t know what planet you live on. Yeah, there’s drama at the prom.
They also play “Don’t You Forget About Me” at prom, which means it’s diegetic, which means that The Breakfast Club does exist in this universe but not with Molly Ringwald!! Who played the princess?!
But we haven’t gotten to prom yet. Because there is also a kissing booth. Elle and Lee build a kissing booth for the school carnival, which is a thing, I guess. I accept it because these kids live in houses that look like this:
And they don’t even mention it? Usually the protagonist would be like “I had a hardscrabble upbringing and I’m only here at the Rich Preppington Academy for Offspring of the Elite because I got a scholarship for kids with hearts that are too pure.” Maybe — again, I am just spitballing options — maybe she lives on the literal wrong side of the literal tracks and has to make her prom dress by cutting up rejects from Annie Potts’s consignment pile. I don’t know, it’s just an idea to make the protagonist more relatable and sympathetic.
But nah, this is just a movie about rich people and I’m fine with it. I’m along for the ride! We’re at a school carnival and I accept it for some reason because I’ve already suspended my disbelief over the oops-so-sexy skirt and the high school senior who’s 8 feet tall. That’s just how things are in California, I’ve told myself!
So there’s this titular kissing booth, which, as I was saying, Lee and Elle build. To raise money for the school dance club. This is supposed to make sense for their characters because they play Dance Dance Revolution at the arcade in their spare time but you…don’t need the school’s approval for that? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is in the club? Now that I type it out I feel like this was a swindle and they’re just gonna buy arcade tokens with the money they get from signing their peers up for low-stakes sex work?
Anyway, in a tumble of confusion and coincidence that I somehow buy — again! — because this Joey gal is very likable, Elle gets pranked real hard by the elderly trio of popular women. They blindfold her and shove her onstage for the kissing booth because the next in line for a kiss was a major dork. But the real prank….is on her heart. Because Bad Boy Noah is here in his motorcycle jacket and he cuts in line for a smooch. He’s so bad he doesn’t wait in lines! He doesn’t need your rules. He’ll ignore any line if it means laying a forbidden kiss on his lil’ bro’s bestie! Queueing up is for cucks!
So Elle and Noah have now LOCKED LIPS. Oh, how strange and exciting and bewildering for our heroine! Elle was, of course, blameless in this sin. She was the victim here. The victim of her first kiss being with her crush. Whom among us has not been blindfolded by malicious fellow students and forced onto a stage to kiss a stranger who just so happens to be the most star-crossed lover of them all at the school carnival? It’s called coming of age, and it’s a tale as old as time.
Theoretically, because Elle was merely a puppet in the hands of fate, BFF Lee can’t get mad at her for this sexy mixup. Or can he? Now things are so complicated. She has tasted the forbidden fruit and it tastes like an older boy with the physique of a Phelps and the grades of a Zuckerberg, and it smells like danger, and it sounds like confusion.
I! Loved! This! Movie!
I guess I’m not telling you to watch The Kissing Booth, because if I do and then you hate the experience you’ll blame me. Don’t come crying to me when you sit through all the drama and neckties of 2 seasons of Gossip Girl combined into one (almost 2-hour) movie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when the student council president announces that the theme of this year’s prom is Memories, and every smiles like that’s a real theme. Perhaps Homecoming can have the theme of Aspirations, and the Spring Fling can revolve around the concept of Yearning.
There is full-on weeping in this movie. The love interest makes me suspect the novel’s author was a Stephenie Meyer fan. Molly Ringwald was certainly on set a total of two days, max. Elle makes slutty decisions in an empowering way. The threat of going off to college looms!
I had a great time, and I’m sorry, and I don’t regret anything, except for sharing this with the world. Do with that what you will!!