When Netflix released The Kissing Booth in May 2018, it appeared to be just another one of the teen rom-coms that the streaming service had become known for. Most Netflix users simply ignored it, and they were right to do so: It’s a terrible movie rife with misogynistic tropes and campy dialogue. The film gets its name from the main characters’ fundraising stall at their school’s fall carnival, because of course, a kissing booth is a very normal and hygienic thing to have at a high school fundraiser. Despite The Kissing Booth being a flaming, toxic wasteland of a movie, Netflix dropped The Kissing Booth 2 on July 24, 2020––a movie that, somehow, managed to be worse than the original. There is a lot to unpack in this franchise–let’s start at the beginning.
The first movie opened with a fast-paced highlight reel of two best friends’ shared childhood with a voiceover narration from Elle Evans (Joey King), a classically sassy-but-awkward teenage girl about to start her junior year. This introduction scene includes fun facts about Elle and her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), as well as the significantly less fun fact that Elle’s mother died when Elle was a teenager, which was tossed into the mix with no real follow-up.
A major trait of The Kissing Booth is that it is both dangerously and immaturely misogynistic. Elle’s first conversation of the film with her love interest, Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi), sets this tone: The conversation boils down to Noah pointing out that Elle’s breasts grew over the summer. This is hardly a promising start to a healthy romantic relationship, but a romantic relationship between the two characters is what the film pursues nonetheless. The power imbalance between Noah and Elle is key to the setup of their relationship, further normalizing predatory relationships to the film’s young audience. Noah is both older and has a reputation for sleeping around, while Elle has never been on a date or kissed anyone, which are among the fun facts offered in the first minutes of the movie.
Another key scene demonstrating The Kissing Booth’s insanely gross attitudes towards women’s bodies involves Elle’s too-short uniform skirt eliciting a fight between Noah and Tuppen (Josh Eady), after Tuppen gropes Elle. Later, Tuppen apologizes by writing “I’m sorry” on a crumpled piece of paper in detention, then asks Elle on a date. She inexplicably agrees, stating that it was a very nice apology. This scene sends a terrible message to young women about what a real apology is and what personal growth can and should be, as Tuppen never really addressed what he did or the harm he caused. Additionally, in the principal’s office after the fight, Elle says that Tuppen touched her “lady bump,” which is possibly the most disturbing and haunting line in the franchise and one that now likely lives rent-free in viewers’ heads.
By the time The Kissing Booth progresses in its so-called plot to the beginning of Noah and Elle’s illicit relationship, Noah has shown several more red flags. These include: Telling the boys at their high school not to date Elle, informing Elle that he is interested in her almost exclusively because she is not interested in him, and slamming the hood of a car loudly while yelling at Elle to get in that car. But of course, per the movie’s warped logic, these are just the ways that Noah shows his love for Elle.
When Netflix realised that the Noah Centineo Industrial Complex (NCIC) they created was becoming too powerful to control, they built another monster to fix their problem. But in funding The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2, they created a franchise so bewilderingly bad that, instead of defeating the NCIC, it became a parallel beast.