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August 14, 2020

The Kissing Booth 2 Review: Love Conquers All?

(Header image via Netflix.)

On July 24th, Netflix released The Kissing Booth 2. Though it was critically considered a flop, this sequel was highly-anticipated and well-received by fans, holding the #1 spot on Netflix for multiple days after its release. Similar to its predecessor, The Kissing Booth 2 is full of intertwining storylines, teenage drama, and of course, kissing. Though there are some uplifting and honest messages throughout the film, the movie is rooted in an abundant number of chick flick clichés that not only normalize toxic mentalities for both male and female viewers, but also make the film pretty confusing. Much of Gen Z is sure to lean into the bright aesthetics and high school setting of the film, as well as all the new characters and plot points. And while teens will probably focus on the film’s juicy drama when talking about it with their peers, it’s important to highlight and discuss some of the film’s other messages with our teens.

What is it about?

The Kissing Booth (to bring you up to speed): 

Elle and Lee have been best friends since birth, literally. They do everything together and have a set of rules that they follow for their friendship, one being that Lee’s older brother Noah is off-limits romantically for Elle. The plot follows Elle and Lee’s plan to set up a kissing booth (where the audience can watch two students kiss blindfolded to raise money for charity), meanwhile Elle and Noah form a secret romance.

The Kissing Booth 2:

In the second installment, Noah has left for college at Harvard, so his relationship with Elle becomes long-distance. Lee has also entered a relationship with a girl named Rachel, who gets tired of Lee choosing to spend all his time and energy on his friendship with Elle, rather than her. Elle is worried that Noah is cheating on her with a girl at his new school named Chloe, a “run-of-the-mill breathtaking supermodel goddess,” as Elle puts it. But at the same time, Elle finds herself in a similar predicament: as she practices for a Dance Dance Revolution competition (surprisingly DDR is a pretty big theme in both films), she becomes attracted to the new kid Marco, who she doesn’t tell Noah about. She also finds herself in the college application season, torn between UC Berkeley, which she and Lee promised to go to together when they were kids, or applying to Boston schools to be closer to Noah. Oh, and there’s another kissing booth. 

Don’t trust anyone

Elle and Lee’s romantic relationships are both complicated because of their devotion to friendship with each other. Noah’s possessive tendencies with Elle push her to pursue things with Marco, secretly. Lee also supports this. Lots of secrets are kept, usually for no apparent reason, and it creates a culture of distrust for all parties involved. 

Communication is key in both romantic and platonic relationships, but The Kissing Booth 2 normalizes the idea that deception is just part of life, that there’s always a reason to be mistrusting in a relationship. As teens value their privacy and desire independence, it can be easy for them to keep things to themselves without looking for counsel from wiser people. The parents in The Kissing Booth 2 are rarely present, which is sad considering all of the important decisions the protagonists are faced with during their senior year of high school/freshman year of college. It’s important to remind your teen that you are there for them, and that trust is an essential part of any relationship.

Everything is (not) ok

Throughout the movie, Lee makes several big mistakes that prompt his girlfriend Rachel to question being in a relationship with him. However, in each instance, Lee makes a grand and romantic gesture that Rachel inevitably considers ok enough to get back together. The actual “kissing booth” barely makes an appearance in the movie, but when it does, it serves as the catalyst for Lee and Rachel’s final rekindling as a couple, teaching viewers that one kiss can right many wrongs. Noah and Elle both avoid being forthright with each other about their lives during their time apart, and Noah’s possessive tendencies and Elle’s irresponsible ones flare up against each other. But they find resolution through sex and other physical displays of affection.

The way conflict is resolved in The Kissing Booth 2 promotes the idea that sex and kissing can right any wrong and solve any problem in a relationship. With things like hookup culture becoming more popular in Gen Z, the idea that “sex saves all” can seem pretty persuasive. But it’s a lie. Dating is important to find out what kind of person you want to marry, and it’s rarely a one-and-done deal, especially in high school. But if major red flags are waved away with acts of empty physical pleasure, teens can become stuck in regretful relationships and have a harder time finding their own identities or the beauty of truly God-honoring love. We’re all for second chances, but it’s important to remind teens of the ability they have to stand up for themselves, as well as the fact that love is about more than just romance and sex.

Honesty is the best policy

Eventually, the characters decide to take a risk and tell the truth. Lee, Noah, Chloe, Rachel, and Elle all come clean about how they’re feeling hurt by each other at Thanksgiving dinner, and relationships are mended. People make-up, become friends again, and settle into a sense of normalcy once more. Elle finally decides to be honest with Marco about the fact that he’s not “the one” and stops leading him on. In another scene, Elle’s dad has a frank conversation with her, asking her to be honest with herself, and if she truly believes her current high school relationship with Noah will last and is worth changing her college dreams for.

If the characters told the truth in the first place, there wouldn’t be much of a movie, which might suggest that the film is trying to showcase the importance of learning from mistakes. But even that is a stretch, because spoiler alert, the movie ends with the characters in the exact same situations they started in. Critics of the first Kissing Booth were quick to judge a lot of the questionable content and unhealthy relationships, and it seems the filmmakers didn’t take much of it into account the second time around. Though making mistakes and learning from them is a part of growing up, the fact that The Kissing Booth 2 normalizes these mistakes and turns them into “happy endings” is a problematic twist.

How do I talk to my teen about it?

Even though it’s been a few weeks since The Kissing Booth 2’s release, Netflix is still posting clips on YouTube to promote the film, so it’s safe to say this movie will be on Gen Z’s radar for a while. Not only that, but they’ve also already announced that a third movie in the series has already finished filming and will be coming out soon. Part of The Kissing Booth series’ appeal may be today’s lack of lighthearted teen films (like the Mean Girls or 10 Things I Hate About You of yesteryear), and with so many serious things sweeping the news, a fun and romantic teen movie may be exactly what Gen Z is looking for. Is it a bit unrealistic and hard to follow? Sure, but the inconsistencies matter less if sheer entertainment is the goal. Regardless, it remains important to remember that even if it’s “just a fun movie,” there are still messages being transmitted to viewers that deserve to be explored. Take time to watch the film, maybe with your teen if they’re willing, then use these discussion questions to get some conversation started!

  1. Have you seen The Kissing Booth 2? What do you like about it?
  2. Do you have a best friend? What makes them your best friend, and do you have any special rules or things that you don’t share with your other friends?
  3. How do you know you can trust someone? What signs show that you maybe can’t trust someone?
  4. How is communication important in your relationships? Is the importance of communication different in a friendship versus a romantic relationship? How so?
  5. What signifies a good romantic relationship? What should you value most, and what boundaries do you think are healthy for your age?
  6. What do you hope to get out of watching a movie? Do you usually watch them for fun or to get a deeper meaning of some sort?

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