The title card for The Kissing Booth 2 on my TV looked like this:
The word “SEQUEL” is right there, because Netflix assumes that I’m an absolute idiot who can’t figure out what the “2” in the title could possibly mean. And you know what? I am an idiot. I’m a dumbass who thought that she could resist the feel-good nonsense of the Kissing Booth cinematic universe. I couldn’t! Not for a second!
I watched the first Kissing Booth assuming that it would be laughably terrible, and I was fully shocked at how well-acted and charming it was. It was still terrible, to be clear, but I had fun. And then The Kissing Booth 2 was much better! It’s still ridiculous, of course, but sometimes you want a fantasy to escape into. The Kissing Booth 2 is much less tonally confused that the first movie, which simultaneously wanted to be a melodramatic tale of friendship threatened by betrayal but also a sexy coming-of-age romance while also occasionally being an “I’m sad my mom is dead” story. Here, the tone is nailed down and the plot is much less convoluted: hunky love interest Noah has gone off to college, and protagonist Elle is lonely and worried about their relationship lasting. She can no longer lean on her best friend Lee, Noah’s younger brother, because he has his own relationship now. So Elle befriends the new boy in school, who is hot like fire, and it’s just the plot of Twilight: New Moon from there on out. We all wonder breathlessly if our lonely Mary Sue will be #TeamJacob (Jacob Elordi plays Noah, the Edward type) or #TeamTaylor (Taylor Zakhar Perez plays Marco, the Jacob type, not to be confused with Taylor Lautner, the actual Jacob.) This is all clear, right?
Not a single plot point in The Kissing Booth 2 is believable, to be sure, but this isn’t some A24 shit. It’s a dramatic high-school romance that gives you exactly what you want and throws out any logistics that would weigh the plot down. Do these minors live at home with their parents? Sure, but they pretty much do whatever they want all the time with no restrictions. Does this take place in a high school? Yeah, technically, but the dress code remains a loose suggestion and students never attend a single class, write a single paper, or discuss concepts such as tests or grades. Who cares? That stuff would take up valuable screen time that could be spent on a field day scene or a school dance with the production value of a high-end theme park attraction. (Multiple bands perform at the Halloween dance, and the entrance is lined with candelabras held by, I assume, the hands of underprivileged locals.)
The Kissing Booth 2 takes place in a fantasy world where teen boys “apologize” when they’re mean to you and “care” about your feelings and “call you” when they go to a different school instead of ignoring you to hang out with their new friends, and two gorgeous boys might vie for your attention. Great! All of that is fine! A relatable teen romance, for me specifically, would be a dark mix of very low standards and repressed Catholic angst, and we can all agree that this style is more fun. I don’t need to be reminded of what it was like to study for the SATs and not be on Zoloft yet, especially not in 2020 of all years. All I ask for entertainment nowadays is the chance to go braindead for an hour or two and feel anything but sadness. And that’s what you get from this movie! That’s my pitch for the tagline!!
Material like this lives and dies on the strength of its leads, and this movie would be boring garbage without likable actors with great chemistry who elevate it to fun garbage. Everyone here is above average for a teen movie! Both male love interests are perfectly fine actors and genuinely hot. Jacob Elordi is a bit boring as Noah, but he hates being in these movies and I give him props for showing up at all. (He and Joey King were dating offscreen for the first movie and broke up before filming this one, and they still committed to their scenes together like pros.) Taylor Zakhar Perez sure is a Netflix male lead. I scrolled desperately through this actor’s IMDb trying to figure out where I knew him from before I realized he just has Noah Centineo’s face on a different shaped head. I’ll take it! Dude is adorable as hell.
But it’s Joey King who makes these movies. Joey King is a star. She should be the lead in more things, but she should especially have her own sitcom. She has a goofy, zany energy that her peers don’t really have, like a Gen-Z Amanda Bynes. Nowadays our kid stars are mostly broken down by years in the Nickelodeon or Disney factories before reaching adulthood, and everyone feels a little too polished and bland. Joel Courtney is very fun as her lifelong bestie Lee, and this installment leans into zany, throwback comedy bits for the two of them. It’s an odd fit for a glossy Netflix production, but I like that the director swung for it. Look at the screwball choreography of this scene:
It’s so weird! I’m delighted! (Note that Lee himself appears to have a crush on Marco, a delightful running joke that reminded me of Nick Miller’s admiration of Fancyman on New Girl. There was never a no-homo stinger on it, Lee is just genuinely in awe of him.) The film’s introduction of new hunk in town Marco is even more over-the-top, a set piece that reminded me of Leo’s introduction in The Great Gatsby. I liked all those fun touches.
Look, I don’t want to oversell this piece of cinéma. It would certainly be much better if it were trimmed down, if the script had more bite, and if some of the book-excerpt voiceover was eliminated so it could show instead of tell. But if any part of you would be tickled by a shiny, pretty romance starring two very hot boys in their late 20s pretending to be teens, then you’ll like The Kissing Booth 2. You don’t even have to watch the first one! The stakes are pretty clear! So go watch this movie and get emotionally attached to the concept of Elle staying with Noah or hooking up with Marco and pretend you’re a rich, slutty California teen for its stupidly long runtime. I did, and I have no regrets at all! To show you how invested I got in this experience, here are some things that I yelled aloud while watching The Kissing Booth 2 alone on my couch:
- “Don’t you dare!”
- “Dumbass!” (three times)
- “Just fuck!” (twice)
- “THROUPLE! THROUPLE!”
My disbelief? Suspended! My expectations? Subverted! My brain? Deader than Ronald Reagan, baby, and that’s how I like it. If that sounds like a good time to you, run towards it. If not, it’s spoiler time.
Actually addressing the plot of these movies requires a lot of space, because they constantly manufacture conflict. This one, for instance, throws money problems at Elle out of nowhere. She attends an ostentatiously fancy private school and lives in a gorgeous house in a neighborhood full of mansions, but now she has to find a way to raise money for tuition if she wants to go to college with Noah. (The movie doesn’t even make up an inciting incident to explain this, like her dad losing his job or something.) Luckily, she finds out about a local Dance Dance Revolution competition with a $50,000 prize, which seems perfect, because she and Lee have been whipping ass at DDR since they could walk. But oh no! Lee trips while practicing and sprains his ankle! Elle will have to team up with the gorgeous new guy, Marco, who happens to be even better at DDR, and hope that she doesn’t fall in love with him while Noah is so far away. But oh no! It turns out Lee was faking his injury because his girlfriend Rachel thought he was spending too much time with Elle. Also!! Noah has befriended a gorgeous college girl named Chloe and Elle is consumed with jealousy. Also!!! Lee and Elle have always promised each other that they’d attend the same college, so Elle must hide the fact that she’s applying to schools in Boston to be near Noah. And also? A random guy in school seems gay and Elle wants him to follow his heart and be gay. Senior year sure is action-packed!
The only way that The Kissing Booth 2 is worse than its predecessor is that it’s not as sexy. There’s more pining than banging. Luckily, that means that this one is also much less problematic, because the wild horniness of the first one often came from bizarre, porn setup scenarios. (Uh-oh! Elle’s pants split so she has to wear a teeny-tiny skirt that doesn’t cover her ass. Whoopsy-daisy! She got splattered with paint and needs to take off her top, but she didn’t realize she walked into the boys’ locker room!) And Noah is barely in this one, which is cool, because their relationship was pretty toxic.
The central love triangle here is VERY Twilight in that we’re supposed to believe that the main romance is True and Forever because the characters say that it is, and yet the boring, blonder boy is controlling in a way that borders on abuse and the rival is a fun guy who the protagonist actually enjoys hanging out with. I thought that The Kissing Booth 2 might take a more empowering stance, because the running theme of college applications repeatedly forces Elle to examine what she wants to do with her life and who she wants to be. Her relationship with Noah causes constant stress and worry, and she’s a horny teen with a different mega-hottie interested in her, so I feel like the choice is clear! The movie had a chance to teach girls a lesson I wish I knew at age 18: don’t stay in a long-distance relationship when you could be having a fun sexy time doing literally anything besides that.
I haven’t read The Kissing Booth series and never will because I am approaching 30 and do have some standards, but I’m pretty sure that the character of Elle Evans is, essentially, Bella Swan. They are the same person. Belle Swevans. Luckily, though, Elle is portrayed by Joey King with the klutzy, adorkable girl-next-door energy that the people of Forks attribute to Bella Swan despite her surly disposition and all of her actions and words. Twitchy, intense lesbian Kristen Stewart was a strange fit for a Belle Swevans type, but Joey King is a genuine bundle of joy. I think that she could have brought warmth and humor to Bella, and I imagine she’s doing similar heavy lifting with the source material here. Elle must seem like a nightmare on paper. Things I wrote about Elle in my notes, all of them compliments:
- “Elle is a horny monster, I love it.”
- “She’s a spunky little maniac.”
- “an impish agent of chaos”
Despite the embarrassing situations that Elle is constantly tumbling into, I never cringed for her because Joey King played her as such an unsinkable spitfire. One eye-rolling plot contrivance occurs when another girl shows Elle a video of the new hottie Marco working out and Elle accidentally hits the intercom button, broadcasting her reaction to the entire school. You know how easy it is to turn on the school’s intercom! It’s a real sitcom hijink of a situation — loyal bestie Lee sprints to the office to save Elle from herself while she monologues about how much of a snack Marco is — and it went on for easily three times longer than I expected it to. But when Elle runs into Marco for the first time in the next scene, her energy is INSPIRING. When he brings up the fact that she just thirsted over him on the school airwaves, Elle is like “Yeah, so what?” and when he tries to make fun of her for it, she’s like “Get fucked, idiot.” I’m approximating the dialogue. But Joey King genuinely plays it like she has nothing to be ashamed of and it’s a bizarre joy to witness.
Of course she ends up bonding with Marco, and I got very invested in the two of them. Anyway, Noah is off having sexual tension with college girl Chloe! This isn’t a problem! Love triangles are problems. This is a love square. Noah should rush a frat and sleep with Chloe and Elle should make out with Marco after Dance Dance Revolution practice and everyone will be fine. Lee and Rachel can continue being boring, sweet side characters. There are simple solutions to everyone’s problems! These are young, hot Californian teens we’re talking about! If TV has taught me anything, it’s that Californian teens are sexually liberated free spirits in a sensual land of eternal summer. Elle should just wait a year or two for Noah to bring Chloe home for spring break and they can all have a threesome.
Ugh. This movie was so fun when it was just a dance competition movie! Elle and Marco fell for each other while practicing their steamy dance moves, as is classic and predictable and enjoyable. I held out hope that Elle would actually choose Marco in the end, even if she’d go back to boring Noah in the third installment, but I was sadly mistaken. Elle and Noah are meant for each other, apparently. She’s the Miley Cyrus to his Liam Hemsworth, a spark of wild joy that lights up this cardboard cutout of a man. So she staunchly resists the delectable Marco, even though he plays the guitar. (I find boys who play the guitar wildly embarrassing, but I’ve been overcome with lust watching a peer make strong, bold acting choices onstage, so perhaps I am embarrassing. Marco is still hot, though.) She’s a cock-blocking third wheel for Rachel and Lee, which is rude as hell considering that she fucked Lee’s brother in every room of their mansion in the first movie. And Noah is lonely and insecure at Harvard and spends more time with Chloe, triggering Elle’s jealousy. (I don’t want to be a woman who hates other women but Chloe is a viper.) All of these people need friends. Elle, Lee, Noah, Bella Swan who’s not even in the movie — they’d all be a lot more chill about their romance problems if they had a group of friends instead of weirdly intense relationships that take up all of their focus.
During the third band set of the Halloween dance, I wondered if this high school was supposed to be a performing arts magnet and I hadn’t noticed or it wasn’t previously established. Later, though, I realized that this school’s magnet was actually declarations of love. Lee needs to make grand gestures to prove to Rachel that she means more to him than Elle, and Elle needs to say “It was always you!” to one of the hotties on her tail, and the gay kid needs to come out of the closet. Such displays of affection are the reason for this school’s existence. The student body gets indescribably hype by them. A girl gasps so hard by a twist at this year’s kissing booth that I thought she was going to unhinge her jaw.
And that is why I love these hot, rich teens, even if I don’t relate to them or agree with any of their decisions. They feel things so intensely and I can’t help but get carried away. These films are not well-made, and the story is not well-written, and I think that actual teens would learn terrible lessons by watching them. But I am a grown woman who needs a break, and I cannot help but be taken in by The Kissing Booth’s stupid, stupid charms.