Halftime Leisure

The Kissing Booth sequel, much like high school relationships, fails to deliver on its promise

August 19, 2020

I hate everyone in this movie. 

This was, admittedly, a problem for me in the first movie—Noah (Jacob Elordi) is exactly the kind of boy I want us to stop making romance movies about and Elle (Joey King), though she is well intentioned, is passive when I want her to be active and active when I want her to be passive. 

But at least in the first movie I could turn to Lee (Joel Courtney) and Rachel (Meganne Young) (who were nothing but sweet), the inexplicable but comforting presence of Molly Ringwald as Lee and Noah’s mom (okay, I guess I don’t hate Molly in this one either but her screen time is limited), and the vague (though monetarily inaccessible) high school familiarity the movie offered.

In the sequel, all these reassurances were ripped away. Lee is suddenly the worst boyfriend in the world, no one besides Noah Flynn graduated, and even one of the OMG girls was inexplicably a different person. Apparently none of the screenwriters had ever applied to college or talked about relationships with someone under 30. It was unsettling. 

My real problem with the movie began about ten minutes in when the central conflict starts to become clear. Everyone thinks Noah and Elle broke up because they haven’t posted pictures of each other on social media recently (seriously not a conversation I ever had in high school). Meanwhile, Elle is actively ignoring Noah and calling it “giving him space.” Apparently, he thinks the best way to talk to her about this is by calling her pretending to be her father—I don’t even know why they wanted to bring THIS dynamic into the movie. To me, it seems like neither of them care enough about being in the relationship to like, call? As someone who is in a long-distance relationship, with the way Noah and Elle are acting, they are doomed to fail. They aren’t even trying to stay in touch. Then, the movie sets up Elle moving to Boston and going to Harvard (thus breaking yet another rule to always go to the same school as Lee) as the only way to solve this problem (because of course, move for your boyfriend you don’t like enough to text back). 

Okay, before I get into the whole relationship disaster that ensues, I have to address the dance competition. Elle needs money for school. Fine, very reasonable. But, for some reason, she does the literally most privileged thing and puts all her eggs in the basket of winning a competition she has no business winning, instead of, like, getting a job where she knows she will be paid or applying to scholarships. Anyway. 

So, with this absurd set-up already testing their relationship, the movie decides to throw yet another wrench in Elle and Noah’s plans—a possible suitor for each that, no matter what claims the movie later makes, our two least favorite teens are undeniably sexually attracted to. 

This side relationship starts with the most awkward scene in the movie, as Elle details exactly how hot the new student, Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez), is over the school’s loudspeakers. I’ll give this bit points for cheap comic value, but really all it did was make me dislike Elle for apparently having three minutes worth of sexual things to say about a guy who isn’t her boyfriend to a girl she doesn’t even like (read, saw making out with Noah in the first movie). 

So now we meet Marco, who is both cuter than Noah and better at flirting. And a few minutes later, we meet Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), who is infinitely more interesting than Elle and honestly should be the star of this movie. 

Chloe is this beautiful, vaguely British, Harvard freshmen who looks and acts like a 25-year-old socialite. She is, when we first meet her with Elle, entirely too touchy and flirty and frankly there is no way that Noah is not attracted to her. Instead of voicing these concerns, Elle gets on a plane home from Boston (this, Elle, is where I want you to speak up), and makes Noah so confused he starts hiding everything he does with Chloe, making it even more suspicious. Although, still, despite the fact that Elle literally wins a televised dance competition, the least believable part of this movie is that Noah isn’t into Chloe. 

The problem with the set-up that was just introduced—aside from the fact that Elle has sent in applications to five colleges but hasn’t written her essay (again, how)—is that Elle and Noah’s relationship does not seem healthy, nor does it grow throughout the course of the film. If this was an honest movie about the difficulties of being in a long distance relationship and growing through it even as you might be tempted by other people or stressed out by the situation, I would be on board. But it’s not. It’s a story of two people who have to remain together because we as a society have decided they should, even though the relationship doesn’t seem to be rewarding for either of them. 

Meanwhile, in the background, we have the agony of watching Lee and Rachel deteriorate. This begins because, apparently, Lee and Elle have never hung out with anyone else before and don’t know how to not exclude people from conversations, which, forget relationships, is a terrible quality in friends. And then Lee forgets his girlfriend and stands her up. His brilliant solution to having no time to hang out with his girlfriend is to literally fake a broken ankle (where did he get those crutches??), and in the process, force Elle into spending time with Marco, her new partner for the perennially-absurd dance competition. 

Honestly, the middle 45 minutes of the movie (which I have now prepared you for) goes exactly how you would expect it to. Elle and Marco connect. Noah starts lying to her about Chloe. Lee lies about talking to Elle about her constant presence in he and Rachel’s relationship, and Rachel shows up to the Halloween dance as a marshmallow because Lee didn’t tell her about a costume change. Everyone becomes less redeemable and more ridiculous. It kind of makes you want to turn the movie off because you don’t know who to root for.

This all, predictably, blows up when Elle decides to kiss Marco at the live-streamed dance competition, which she didn’t know Noah was at, but like, it was going to be recorded so I don’t know why that made a difference in her calculations. They also, inexplicably, win the competition. 

At this point, the movie really became a lost cause for me. Elle and Noah barely took, but still failed the test of challenges to their relationship, unable to handle the smallest tension. A Thanksgiving scene gives us the satisfaction of everything breaking apart and then the next thirty minutes fail to explain how it is all put back together. But, as the final scene explains in Elle’s continually annoying voice over, it is. 

I know The Kissing Booth is supposed to be silly, and it is allowed to be that. But the movie also tries to be heartwarming,challenging, and sad at times. However this would require the audience to root for any of these people who are actively disregarding the others in their life. It knew where it had to begin and wanted to end up, muddled the path just enough to maybe become a trying, sometimes-you-don’t-stay-with-the-guy movie, and then inexplicably catapulted back into the same old together-again ending. 

In the end, The Kissing Booth 2 violates Rule #1: Don’t make a movie where you hate all the characters. 

Annemarie Cuccia
Annemarie is an avid Voice reader and former editor-in-chief. She hopes she left the magazine better than she found it.

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