Directed by: Vincent Marcello. Starring: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi. Runtime: 2h 14 min. Released: July 24, 2020.
I didn’t care for 2018’s The Kissing Booth, and I liked Netflix’s The Kissing Booth 2 even less. In this sequel, Elle Evans (Joey King) deals with a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) after he leaves for Harvard, the stress of senior year and college essays, as well as her feelings for a new classmate named Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez).
Elle also must deal with conflict with her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney). If you’ve forgotten any of these dynamics from the first film, this sequel opens with a few montages to recap everything. In the first film, Elle broke a best friend rule with Lee and dated his older brother. She should be smart enough to learn for the sequel to not break any best friend rules, but naturally, she does break a rule.
That’s the formula for conflict in this franchise as the rule in this film is that they need to apply to the same college (the University of California, Berkeley) so when Noah suggests Elle apply to Harvard, she hides that from Lee. I know what you’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she tell Lee to apply to Harvard, too?” Well, she isn’t smart and for best friends that spend every waking minute together, they both hide things from each other. Lee’s girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young) wants Lee to tell Elle that they need some space, and naturally Lee doesn’t mention it and finds a way around it.
I can recap these annoying scenarios for hours but I’ll move onto the characters. I like Joey King as an actress but I find Elle annoying because she jumps to so many conclusions, like she thinks Noah is cheating on her (granted, the film goes to lengths to provide evidence that he could be). However, Elle jumps to conclusions and voice over narrates to tell us how she feels about it, but never actually talks to the person about it. If these characters actually talked to each other, there would be zero conflict in this film. Seriously, I’m convinced it would turn this 134-minute behemoth into an accessible 90-minute teen rom-com, but no, the filmmakers want to torture anyone who’s not the target audience of girls aged 10-15. If you’re outside that specific demographic, be ready to (likely) say, “Thanks, I hate it.”
This film is just a series of subplots, misunderstandings and so much melodrama that it would make a soap opera writer blush. I haven’t even talked about Marco, the new guy that Elle is seeing as they spend time each other trying to win a competition of Dance Dance Mania so Elle can win $50,000 to go to Harvard. It’s curious that The Kissing Booth 2 becomes a dance movie in this aspect as so much of the film is dedicated to the practice and then briefly the competition, which is the only exciting part of the film.
The introduction of this main sub-plot of a video game dance competition feels like a good idea for the core narrative of a Netflix Original, but it feels so out-of-place in a film like this when you’re not expecting it. More frustrating is that this film is called The Kissing Booth 2 and the Booth itself doesn’t show up until 26 minutes left in the film!
Some of the Kissing Booth scenes are fine, like the courtship between a pair of side characters named Ollie (Judd Krok) and Miles (Evan Hengst). Some of the chemistry in this film is sweet, and I liked Joel Courtney and Meganne Young together, though I disliked how their relationship was written. Some of the dialogue was sweet because I like schmaltzy crap, but this film is generally a waste of time.
I cared about the friendship between Elle and Lee in the first film, but I didn’t care here and I surely didn’t care about the romance. I didn’t care about Elle’s struggles or her applying to college. The film’s framed around a college essay question of where she wants to be in five years, and this essay ties some themes together and makes for some decent narration in the final 10 minutes.
It’s safe to say The Kissing Booth 2 is the most ambitious film set around an essay since American History X. Okay, not really, but director Vince Marcello sets so many ducks in a row as the subplots merge together that it’s almost impressive how much they shove into this film. It’s like a train-wreck I was never invested in but couldn’t look away, either. I also couldn’t wait for it to end because watching their first-world problems is exhausting and as a rom-com, there’s a lot of romance but there’s not one solid comedic moment in sight.