REVIEW: The Kissing Booth 2
Elle, Noah and Lee are back, and this time it's even more angsty
Netflix’s latest original release, the sequel to 2018’s The Kissing Booth, has finally been released, and it’s not terrible! I say that because I’ve been keeping an eye on a lot of the reviews and I’m surprised to see they are generally negative.
Sure, this isn’t the greatest film ever and anything released so close to Netflix’s ridiculously enjoyable original The Old Guard was likely to pale in comparison, but it’s one of the platforms strongest romcoms this year (Desperados was shocking).
This story was originally written by a 15-year-old (author Beth Reekles) and was first published on the self-publish site Wattpad before it was a book, so why don’t we just enjoy it for the silly, sugary guilty pleasure it is instead of holding to some sort of Cinema Artistique standard? Frankly, not every film has to be a Best Picture contender to justify its existence, and I won’t apologise for indulging in feel-good, albeit forgettable, movies during a global pandemic. Ok rant over, now about the movie – spoiler alert.
The plotline and characters
The story picks up exactly where we left off as Elle Evans (Joey King) recaps her summer bae-cation with her lifelong best friend’s older brother Noah (Jacob Elordi) before she waves him off to Harvard. Side note: Am I the only one who had a really hard time adjusting to seeing Elordi play teen- crush dreamboat Noah after his perfectly twisted portrayal of psychopath Nate Jacobs in Euphoria? Also, why was I more attracted to him in Euphoria? What’s wrong with me? Can I watch Euphoria again?
Anyway, Elle and Noah have finally been given his little brother Lee’s blessing to continue their relationship, and now they’re facing their next challenge: a long distance relationship.
While Elle finishes her senior year in LA (shoutout to Cape Town acting as stand-in) he’s starting a new adventure at Boston’s prestigious Harvard University. Conflict arises when they both turn out to be truly awful at communication (he lies about hanging out with beautiful women and she basically ignores him to look cool and “mature”?) so the wheels come off pretty quickly. (As a survivor of a long distance relationship, I can confirm they pretty much nail the frustrations and loneliness that comes with a relationship dependent on good wifi).
To add fuel to the communication meltdown fire, temptation arrives in the form of Elle’s new classmate, and snack, Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez), while Noah befriends the beautiful and sophisticated Harvard student Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Things really take off when Marco agrees to be Elle’s dance partner in a Dance Dance Mania contest (she needs the prize money for college) and when Elle finds one of Chloe’s earrings under Noah’s bed when she visits him. Convinced that he’s cheating on her (Spoiler: he isn’t), she turns to Marco for emotional support and company.
There are two other major plotlines (yes, there’s a lot going on), one of which involves Lee struggling to balance his close friendship with bestie Elle while giving his new girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young – she’s South African yay!) the time and attention she deserves. Spoiler alert: he’s pretty terrible at it.
The other plot has to do with Elle’s decision of which university she should attend. Noah is at Harvard and she’s not loving the long distance, but she and Lee have a pact to attend UC Berkeley together as per their Rule Number 19, “always attend the same school as your bestie”. The inner turmoil is real, and surprisingly, not resolved by the end of the movie.
What I liked
Truly, I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would. Specifically because the plot’s tension actually had me wondering how it was going to end, and I think that’s largely due to the new characters.
I spent a good 80% of the movie thinking Elle should pick Marco over Noah (Spoiler: she doesn’t). I mean, he’s stunning, is emotionally available, has similar interests and shows up for her when she needs him, what’s not to like?
The chemistry between King and Perez honestly had me thinking they would shatter the love triangle trope and ditch OG boyfriend Noah, who isn’t exactly shown in the greatest light throughout the movie. I don’t know if it’s just me, but this kind of romantic tension is lacking in a lot of movies that try the love triangle thing, even Netflix’s other 2020 teen romcom sequel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 2, didn’t convince me for a second that Laura was going to really stray from Peter.
That said, TKB2 still has a running-to-the-airport-to-declare-your-love scene, complete with a “it’s you, it’s always been you” speech, which is pretty much the oldest romcom trick in the book, so I’m not saying it’s all that original.
All I’m saying is… are we really sure that Marco with Elle and Noah with Chloe don’t actually make more sense as couples? Just some food for thought.
Overall this movie felt like it had higher stakes than the first one, and I like that we got to see more layered versions of our three main characters.
Elle is more proactive and self-aware this time around, and a bit more independent of the Flynn boys, Noah is a more insecure and vulnerable version of himself now that he’s away from the safety of home, and Lee finally has some personal conflict outside of his jealousy for his brother (though there is still a touch of that thrown in).
Lastly, I’m really glad they didn’t overdo the Kissing Booth references this time round, it definitely felt a tad forced in the first one!
And what I didn’t like
As I mentioned before there’s a lot going on in this movie, with a run time of 132 minutes. As a result some things feel slightly rushed and surface-level. The most notable being a subplot involving the sweet developing relationship between fellow classmates Ollie (Judd Krok) and Miles (Evan Hengst). It’s not that I didn’t like this addition to the story, I loved it, I just wish that these characters and their chemistry had been given a larger chunk of the story as opposed to a handful of scenes. Frankly, I was more interested in them than I was with Lee and Rachel…
Secondly, while watching this I couldn’t help but think that Elle needs to take a break from the Flynn boys altogether. The film’s climatic Thanksgiving dinner scene basically featured her as the punching bag while Noah, Lee and Rachel all ripped her apart for her multiple “betrayals”.
To recap, Noah is pissed because he saw her kiss Marco, which is totally unacceptable I agree, but to be fair the movie had very much convinced us he was up to no good with Chloe and he had been lying about spending time with her, so like, thou shalt not cast stones right?
Secondly, Rachel is mad because she thinks Elle is purposefully getting in the way of her relationship with Lee when in truth, Lee chickened out of asking Elle for space, and then told Rachel he’d done it, which is so not cool. Also, the whole him being a terrible boyfriend in general thing doesn’t help.
Then Lee is also mad at Elle because he found out she is looking at Boston universities as opposed to only applying to Berkely, which is frankly ridiculous because (A) she’s her own person who surely gets to decide where she goes to school and (B) the whole him being spineless and letting Rachel hate Elle thing.
What I’m trying to say is that Elle could probably benefit from meeting new guys and having a few more friends.
Another gaping plot hole in this movie is the extremely confusing timeline. I’m no expert on the American school calendar, but we pick up at the start of the school year and end off with graduation and shockingly little happens during the year, did I miss something? Did Elle only see Noah once the whole year? How long were they training for the dance competition? Was there a big time jump from the Thanksgiving dinner (November) to the graduation (probably around May)? I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m genuinely confused.
The big reveal and ending
One of the biggest surprises in the movie is the cliffhanger ending that reveals that Elle has been accepted to both Harvard and Berkely. This means the story has come full circle from the first film and she has to choose between Noah and Lee all over again. It’s kind of poetic and I don’t hate it, especially since Netflix has not only confirmed The Kissing Booth 3 is happening, but that it’s already been filmed!
To add intrigue to the story, Elle lies to both Lee and Noah, telling them she’s been waitlisted at both schools (remember the whole bad at communication thing?). That coupled with the fact that Marco is definitely still interested in pursuing Elle makes me curious about number three.
Screw it we’ve come this far, one more can’t hurt.
Now excuse me, I’m going to go rewatch Euphoria.