Digital Editor Holly Pittaway takes a look back at The Kissing Booth, a fun-yet-trashy Netflix Original rom-com that’s sure to spice up life in lockdown
Wattpad. Movie. Two different words denoting two separate realms meant never to intertwine. But what happens when the stars align in some fatal constellation and they do cross over? The Kissing Booth. I’ll admit it – I love this film. It’s one of those that I started out watching in awe because I couldn’t believe my eyes, but after a few more viewings my dropped jaw gradually picked itself up off the floor until I was no longer hate-watching the film, I was just watching it of my own volition. 50 times. Probably more if I’m honest. But what is so enthralling about this film (nay, piece of art), you ask? Well, to get the full picture I’d say watch it and find out, but first give this a read if you’re unconvinced.
The film follows two best friends, Elle Evans (Joey King) and Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney), who were born on the same day, at the same time, and, according to the opening montage, in the same room. They grow up like siblings, thanks to their mothers also being BFFs, and basically they like hanging out and dancing together – seems pretty straightforward, right? But matters get complicated by the one and only Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi), Lee’s older (taller, hotter) brother and high school legend, who Elle inevitably falls for after they kiss at, you guessed it, the titular Kissing Booth (which actually has little significance in the film’s plot as a whole). ‘But Holly, this doesn’t seem that complex of a plot, where does the conflict come from?’ I hear you ask – enter the list. Elle and Lee have a list of rules for their friendship which, when looked at objectively, is very strange; some of the rules are nice and wholesome, for example, ‘always be happy for your bestie’s successes’, while others are borderline controlling, see ‘relatives are totally off limits’. Elle breaks the rules and Lee’s heart when she chooses Noah over him – but will they make up in the end? Yes, obviously.
If it’s all sounding a bit juvenile, that’s because it is, as the premise was based on a Wattpad story of the same name by Beth Reekles, who was just 15 at the time of penning the first draft. All jokes aside, whether it’s a good film or not, it’s something of a teenage fantasy to have characters you created come to life on screen at such a young age (also can’t hurt to cash a fat cheque from Netflix).
The film carries with it an inherent ‘uncanny valley’ quality – set in Los Angeles, it was actually shot in South Africa with a largely South African cast (bar the main roles) who all struggle to adapt to a convincing American accent. Coupled with the fact that they all appear to be wearing a semi-school uniform (undoubtedly a result of the Welsh author’s teenage misconception about what high school in America, where uniforms are rare, is actually like) it leaves the viewer with an unnerving feeling of not knowing where the film stands. Oh, and Lee and Noah live in Pitbull’s mansion, which goes unexplained.
The teenage nature of the original story doesn’t change the fact that the cinematic adaptation is a chaotic assault on the senses. Constant montages that splice together 100 shots a minute and an obnoxious soundtrack that overlays pretty much every single second of the movie mean this film doesn’t give your eyes or ears a break. It’s a mess of clichés, from wildly over-exaggerated high school house parties to the emotional end-of-year prom, where they even manage to reference The Breakfast Club, just in case having Molly Ringwald as a main cast member wasn’t nostalgic enough for you. You won’t be surprised to see the recurrence of archetypes like the mean girl, the ‘not like other girls’ girl, the nerd with oversized braces, the meathead jock, the school creep, and the high-schooler who is definitely of high-school age and isn’t, in fact, in their 30s. Some of the tropes the film employs, though, are downright problematic. Noah, the sought-after love interest, is a violent, controlling, and one might even say manipulative ‘bad boy’ who regularly gets chastised by the school principal for starting fights – many writers have criticised this character for normalising, and even romanticising toxic behaviour on the same scale as in Twilight and the 50 Shades of Grey series. Our other leading man, Lee, could also be accused of displaying controlling characteristics manifested in his possessiveness over his best friend. So, if you’re coming to this film looking for role models, prepare to be disappointed.
Somehow, despite all of its apparent failures, The Kissing Booth is so bad that it’s actually good. Glancing back at what I’ve written, there’s no reason that this should be on my most-watched list, and from an objective point of view there’s nothing that would reel me, a cynical 21-year-old who hates anything lovey-dovey, in. But that, my friend, is the magic of The Kissing Booth, and I implore you to let a little magic, albeit stereotypical and problematic magic, into your lives during lockdown.
The Kissing Booth is now streaming on Netflix.
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