SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE KISSING BOOTH I WILL BE DISCUSSING ACTIONS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
From an early age I have been a bonafide lover of romance stories. From movies, to books, to television shows, I was obsessed with the idea that under perfect conditions, two people could remain in love with each other for the rest of their lives.
Naturally, this lead to some discoveries about personal misconceptions I had. For a long time I have been a user of ebooks, turning to my kindle and sites like Wattpad to fulfill my desire to read without spending an exorbitant amount at book stores. On these sites I noticed the glorification of controversial topics by self published authors, such as “possessiveness” as protectiveness, and the desire for someone to “fight for you.” Perhaps it is through these stories that I came to disagree with so many things the movie, The Kissing Booth promotes.
For those not as obsessed with terrible romantic comedies, Netflix’s The Kissing Booth stars Joey King as Elle Evans, a teenage girl who has unfortunately fallen for her best friend’s brother Noah, played by Jacob Elordi. Elle and her best friend Lee, played by Joel Courtney, have a pact (known as rule number nine) against relationships with each other’s family members: a fact complicated by Elle’s life long crush and eventual kiss with Noah at the kissing booth.
The film itself sets out with good intentions. Framing itself as a classic coming of age narrative a la 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That, The Kissing Booth pays homage to films of the past in a not entirely positive manner. While classic tropes such as dancing on tables, brooding bad boys, nerdy best friends, and prom blow-outs give the movie a nostalgic feel, they also leave it lost in the past.
The movie’s greatest dangers can be found in its characters. Relationships such as Elle’s are unhealthy. In a platonic sense, we are introduced to Elle and Lee’s codependent relationship early on in the film. The two are hardly ever depicted as socializing seriously with any other friends, save for Lee’s girlfriend, and as seen from “rule number nine,” they have a clear inability to share their “bestie” with other people. While it is safe to assume that the two do have other friends and are only focused on for the purpose of the movie, the amount that both Lee and Elle rely on a single person is terrifying. To suggest such a friendship is healthy in a film marketed to teens has lasting repercussions, as it suggests to children that this is the type of relationship to emulate if the want to be like Elle.
Noah, however, sets off more red flags than any other part of the movie. In the best of circumstances, Noah is sweet, intelligent, and dedicated. Yet upon a closer look it becomes clear that his character is riddled with anger issues, manipulative, and unstable when it comes to all things Elle. Noah gets in multiple fights, tells boys not to talk to her when they are not dating, almost ruins Elle and Lee’s friendship, and runs away rather than address his current relationship problems. Not only do his flaws become evident over the course of the entire movie, but the viewer is left constantly speculating about whether his violent and manipulative tendencies might lead to abuse in the future.
I like to think of watching hallmark movies with training wheels such as this, and not supporting all the poorly executed topics addressed within it, as separation of church and state. So long as one does not take their messages to close to heart, everything will be okay. Most of the time people seem to be able to recognize this difference, but something about the Kissing Booth negates this ability.
When the film came out I was shocked to hear my friends talk about how they wished to have a life like Elle, and to find a boy like Noah. I didn’t understand; did they not see how unhealthy all Elle’s relationships were within the movie? What were they seeing that I was not to make them want something like this?
Perhaps the answer lays in the fact that the Kissing Booth is the first real film produced within its cultural niche to have any sort of mass impact in years. With no other recent films to compare it to, kids watching The Kissing Booth have the dangerous tendency to take the story more literally than they ought to.
By placing the outdated tropes of the 1990’s into a modern film, there is a dangerous amount of room for regression in the messages that The Kissing Booth teaches to an oncoming generation. Movies of the past were revered and remembered fondly in spite of their “playful” misogyny and over the course of the years their half-baked attempts at female empowerment have been improved upon. While looking to the past for inspiration might seem innocent, it is a clear act of regression whose multitude of negative influences will be seen in future relationships.