For this Franchise with Me, I really wanted to do something completely out of my wheelhouse, something I would have never even heard of much less sit down and watch otherwise.
The criteria? It had to be short and meaningless. Meaningless because after my previous Franchise with Me articles on the Rocky and Jaws series, I wanted to do something less essential to American pop culture. Short because I have so many articles I’m working on for Halloween next month that I wanted to keep September light.
Enter The Kissing Booth, a teen romance trilogy about a love triangle between three exorbitantly rich Santa Monica high schoolers that’s conveniently streaming on Netflix so I wouldn’t have to pay for anything.
Returning for the second time is my old high school buddy, former teacher and current vice principal, Ben V. You may remember Ben from my Leprechaun Franchise with Me article. You may not. Either way, he’s here with me now to make sense out of this pompous and problematic Gen Z high school erotica.
The Kissing Booth
written & directed by: Vince Marcello ; based on the 2012 novel “The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles
cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Molly Ringwald, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings, Carson White, Morne Visser, Jessica Sutton, Zandile Madliwa
running time: 105 minutes (shortest entry)
release date: May 11, 2018 (NETFLIX)
other TEEN movies released Summer ’18: Eighth Grade, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Adrift, On Chesil Beach, The Darkest Minds
MARGETIS = BLUE ; BEN V. = RED
Based on the popular Wattpad novel about three immature idiots trying to fuck, The Kissing Booth opens with one of the most toxic best friend relationships I’ve ever seen at the movies. Elle Evans (Joey King) and Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) were born on the exact same day, in the same hospital, attended the same school and their parents are forever friends. Seems like these two would do anything for each other, but it also seems like they’d do anything to anybody trying to horde in on their friendship. They both feel such an intense ownership over each other, it’s honestly uncomfortable.
Like many post-9/11 teen movies, The Kissing Booth introduces the idea of adolescent Americans implementing and following a self-made set of rules for themselves (Zombieland, anyone?) In this most unusual case, dual protagonists Elle and Lee have a set each other must follow at all times . Rules that enforce a potentially abusive co-dependency like “Never share your secrets with anyone else”, “Always help clean up your bestie’s messes”, “Always go to the same school as your bestie” and “If one friend is sick/moody, the other one is responsible for bringing supplies to make them feel better.” Yeah, wouldn’t be surprised if these two are eventually found dead together in some sort of morbid joint suicide pact — like a Doogie Kamealoha version of Cersei and Jamie Lannister’s demise. One of the most important rules is “Relatives of your best friend are off limits” so of course, when Elle begins to notice Lee’s hot older brother, Nate (Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi – delivering the only not terrible performance in the entire film), shit starts to pop off. Can their creepy courtship survive Elle’s raging hormones? Anyway, Nate and Elle start fucking on top of the Hollywood sign and Lee slowly looses control of his bestie. Oh and to raise money for prom or something, they have a kissing booth for like ten minutes towards the end of the movie.
The Kissing Booth is one of the stupidest but also one of the most outright problematic mainstream teen movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe I just haven’t seen enough, but there are so many garbage messages flying at teen viewers, it made me cringe. First and foremost, establishing the normalcy of Lee and Elle’s conjointment is troublesome because keeping up with that standard is impossible and teenagers are already too stressed out and sweaty as it is. Then there’s the fact that Elle carries on a secret relationship with her best friend’s brother behind his back, knowing how much it would hurt him. This really shows a real selfishness, cowardice and lack of maturity on Elle’s part. There’s also a scene where a guy at school gets so horned up by Elle’s new revealing outfit, that he slaps her ass hard in front of the whole school. This character isn’t properly punished for sexually assaulting a classmate, because all he has to do for punishment is go on a real date with Elle (great, more opportunities for this guy to assault.) They even make him a staple supporting character throughout the franchise and his initial sexual assault eventually evolves into a reocurring joke among everyone at the school. Fourth and finally, and most upsetting, is Elle making excuses for her incredibly violent boyfriend. Much like his character on Euphoria, Jacob Elordi’s Nate resolves even the smallest issues with a savage beatdown for anyone challenging his authority. He also threatens and intimidates anyone wanting to date Elle before they begin their relationship. This is brushed off as just a kooky, quirky thing people do when they are in secret love with each other – controlling every aspect each other’s love lives. If Nate can’t have her or more accurately, if Nate can’t admit to himself that he even wants her in the first place, she’s going to college a virgin. Case closed, remanded without bail.
I hate everything The Kissing Booth represents and this sort of ecstatic celebration of self-centered and super boring rich kids living in Santa Monica mansions seems especially tone deaf for a mainstream teen romance in 2018. Ben, what did you think?
My favorite part of this movie is that it’s both bad and toxic, meaning I can really lay into it without having to feel bad about myself! #winning, a throwback I’m kind of surprised this movie didn’t use. This whole thing felt like an after-school-special but if you tried to make one without a moral at the end:
“Hey, what am I supposed to do if an obvious-30-year-old-playing-a 17-year old guy on campus grabs my ass on the first day of school because I’m wearing a short skirt?”
“Uhh, grab his back in the third act? I can’t tell you what to do.”
The dynamic here was beyond toxic, bordering even a little on incestual? Like the whole thing is that Elle and Lee grew up together, meaning Elle also grew up with Nate. Like we don’t even have to infer this, Nate reminds us on a regular basis while he’s beating the ever-living shit out of anyone looking to bed Elle that he sees Elle as a sister. And then they bang in front of the Hollywood sign. I get now why they made the Hollywood sign stark white in post, because if it looked anything like the graffitied mess it actually is and two proto-siblings were banging in front of it while a soundtrack straight out of the free-bin on After Effects was playing, you’d turn this thing off. The whole movie felt like it was written by a bot that was forced to watch like 400 hours of CW and Freeform Network programming but think like a Hollywood producer. The “humor” was 60% slapstick, 20% bad face acting, and 20% bad line reading, and the storyline was like 3 short films crammed together. This becomes a real integral piece of the whole series: each film felt like it was supposed to be several episodes of a miniseries that Netflix wasn’t willing to commit to. It’s probably cheaper to make 3 movies than 3 seasons of a TV show and you have less to fear with regards to viewer burnout, but it was such a Return of the King move – each movie feels like it ends 3-5 times before it actually ends.
Truly the most vile thing we get after the sexual assault that goes unpunished by the school administration is the idea that anyone has to kiss Joey King. I cannot imagine kissing Joey King. I refuse to even try. It would be like kissing a deep-sea fish or a public bus seat: you know better and should be ashamed. Even worse, imagine paying to do it? Yikes.
The Kissing Booth 2
directed by: Vince Marcello ; written by: Vince Marcello and Jay Arnold ; based on the novel “The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles
cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Molly Ringwald, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings, Morne Visser, Zandile Madliwa, Carson White
running time: 131 minutes (longest entry)
release date: July 24, 2020 (NETFLIX)
other TEEN movies released Summer ’20: The New Mutants, The Binge, All Together Now, Words on Bathroom Walls, Chemical Hearts
MARGETIS = BLUE ; BEN V. = RED
When Mike told me this was the longest entry in the franchise, I was wholly unprepared for the life lesson I learned, which is that time is definitely an illusion, because I swear we were watching this for 2 weeks.
The Kissing Booth 2 picks up at the exact moment that The Kissing Booth ends, which was the only thing about this movie I appreciated. In this installment, Elle spends the summer boinking her BFF’s brother before he reluctantly goes to Harvard. I don’t know how a guy who has a track record of high school assault charges gets into Harvard, but I also didn’t watch that Netflix documentary about rich people buying their kids’ ways into school, so I’m sure the answer is there. Anyway, Nate leaves, and Elle and Lee should be having the time of their lives, but Lee has this stuck-up Christian-mother-of-3 girlfriend who is totally cockblocking Elle. Or something. The animosity leveled at Lee’s girlfriend is both intense and undeserved, but also that girl should respect herself. Everyone knows that if a dude has a girl best friend, you don’t date him.
Long story short, Elle and Lee find out someone has topped their high score on the Santa Monica Pier Arcade Dance Dance Revolution machine and they set out to find the guy. Disclaimer- kind of sad that these two morons play the game as a team and can’t score higher than one dude dancing alone? Weird. Anyway, the guy is the new love interest, an ethnically-vague-but-still-ethnic jock try-hard named Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez, best known for… acting with his eyebrows?). Marco lays his constantly-moving eyes on Elle and decides he must have her. Woof.
Elle goes to visit her college boyfriend at Harvard and has a swell time until his new BFF, a conventionally attractive women with an accent, shows up and Elle gets jealous that Nate talks to other women. Elle convinces herself Nate is cheating. Elle goes home and competes in a DDR tournament with Marco and kisses him as they win, only to lock eyes with Nate, who flew in as a surprise, in the crowd. Elle then has to start applying to schools, having to make the difficult decision between sticking to her list of rules and going to UC Berkeley with Lee or throwing in the towel and going to Harvard with her on-off college boyfriend Nate. Do you see all these moving parts? Do you see how this could be construed less as a film and more as the churned-out ramblings of a bot trying to commit suicide?
As far as the franchise is concerned, this is the least problematic of the 3 films. It’s fine. It’s boring, drama-ridden high school girl fodder as written by… a 50 year old man. Holy fuck. Okay. I take back EVERYTHING. This shit is disgusting. Michael, thoughts?
I actually liked this one more than the first or third, because it’s significantly less infuriating because it sticks to the formulaic teen rom com mold more than any other entry. Which is to say I found it to be a ‘D-‘ movie rather than an ‘F’ movie. I came to this decision by assessing…50 YEARS OLD?! The guy who wrote AND directed this is 50 years old?! That’s literally insane, he wrote and directed all three of these! At least the WattPad novel from which it’s based (hehehehe will never not find that funny) was written by a 17-year-old girl who didn’t know any better and at least understood Gen Z. But being fifty and writing and directing this??? That really explains why there’s a disconnect here, making everything seem inauthentic. I thought it was just because I’m an old piece of crap, thirteen years older than these kids, and back in my day we didn’t act like this, but something is definitely off.
Anyway, this one is definitely the horniest, which creeped me out more than anything. It’s all about having this massive, pent-up fuck energy because your lover is 3,000 miles away, and you don’t have anywhere to release it except for in a tissue. Elle and Nate spent the entire summer penetrating each other and now they can’t fuck anything. They’ve become obsessed with each other and not knowing what the other one is doing 24/7 is driving them both insane. Elle starts to suspect Nate is sleeping with his gorgeous and older classmate (definitely played a 32-year-old tho) and Nate is bending over backwards to try to assure Elle nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, it’s Elle that ends up being the unfaithful one, when she kisses the only non-white character of the film, Marco, after winning a Dance Dance Revolution competition. Right in front of a devastated Nate and 300 audience members.
So let me back up, Marco is the new kid at school who is basically this total hunk and an aspiring musician. He plays painfully average Jack Johnson rip-off shit on the Santa Monica Pier but if you’re a seventeen year old girl, that’s like so fricking hot. He’s also a great dancer who loves Dance Dance Revolution, so Elle recruits him for the competish after Lee (who has the smallest part of the three throughout this whole series) injures himself on the dance platform. They hit it off, win a competition, the adrenaline gets the best of them and they end up smooching in front of the crowd – which includes Nate in the front row. There’s all this drama and it basically gets resolved at the end.
What else? Lee gets a new boring girlfriend who acts, looks and dresses like a thirty-five year old middle school teacher, who he proceeds to ignore in favor of his bestie, Elle. Oh, and Elle gets into both Harvard and Berkley, which is bizarre. You never see these kids studying or talking about anything not involving themselves, and yet they get into Harvard and Berkley.Hmmm. I think Elle, Lee and Nate’s parents pulled a Felicity Huffman on this one.
The Kissing Booth 3
directed by: Vince Marcello ; written by: Vince Marcello & Jay Arnold
cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings, Morne Visser, Carson White
runtime: 113 minutes
release date: August 11, 2021 (NETFLIX)
other TEEN movies released Summer ’21: Fear Street Trilogy, Plan B, Seance
MARGETIS = BLUE ; BEN V. = RED
Why are these even called The Kissing Booth? It was a ten minute segment of the original and a two second segment of the sequel. Here, it only serves as a backdrop to an epilogic (just created that word) ‘5 Years Later’ scene, when the three kids, long since broken up with each other, reunite at a Carnival at their High School, where they’re still doing the kissing booth…AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, YA’LL! #LEGACY First of all, who the fuck goes to their high school after graduating college? Second of all, who the fuck even remembers they went to high school after college?! I’m surprised 17-year-old WattPad Diva Beth Reekles didn’t write this one because that’s exactly what a kid graduating high school would expect. You move the fuck on, and you realize with greater freedom in that stage of your life, stuff becomes incredibly more memorable than taking out the trash for your parents, doing bong rips on T.J.’s patio, but having to be quiet so his mom doesn’t wake up or almost killing that girl with your car in the Xavier parking lot before the Homecoming bake sale.
So much like Kissing Booth 2, Kissing Booth 3 starts off exactly where the previous one left off. Elle has gotten into both Harvard and Berkley (give me a real break, folks) and can’t decide which school she wants to attend – Harvard for her boyfriend, Nate or Berkley for her bestie, Lee. Imagine telling someone you went to Harvard just for a guy. Like, I want you to really imagine it and imagine how much of a sad idiot that would make you. The admissions office keep calling and pressuring Elle to make a decision, but she wants to put it off along with everything else in her life. She tells both Lee and Nate that she’s been waitlisted for both colleges, so the clock is ticking. Her boyfriend or her bestie, she must make a choice…
Most of the story takes place at Lee and Nate’s family’s summer beach house, a ridiculously enormous beach mansion that easily cost eight digits. The parents are going to sell the beach house because the kids are grown and going to college, and we’re supposed to feel bad for these kids losing their ridiculously boujee summer home. It’s treated like the loss of a family member and Nate and Lee and Elle pout about losing a part of their childhood. The movie positions us to feel bad for these entitled little fuckers when most viewers at home barely have one house. Felling guilty, the parents decide to let Elle, Noah and Lee live in the summer house by themselves, UNSUPERVISED and throw 200-300 person parties every night, to help them cope with the intense trauma of losing their beach palace.
While cleaning out the junk from their old rooms in the beach house (thousands of dollars worth of barely used kid’s toys, mind you), Lee and Elle find a before college bucket list and attempt to do a bunch of stupid things on the list – paragliding, turning Noah into an ice cream sundae, re-create Mario Kart but with real go carts and Super Mario costumes, instigate a flash mob (worst moment of the series, but more on that later) and of course — live together at Berkley — which Elle can’t do cause she chooses Harvard but really, she chooses the dick. A lot of drama ensues between Elle and Lee, and Elle and Noah, and Noah and Lee, and the state of California and all three of these morons. This is far and away the worst installment of the three, and I’m sure Ben, you have a lot of blanks to fill in for me on some truly awful sequences and scenes. Ben, what did you think? Cause I’m done writing about this not only dumb but abhorrent franchise.
As much as I want to bail you out here and fill in these gaps, I have accomplished a feat that would make most modern psychologists jealous: I have wholly repressed this film. JK, I am permanently scarred from just how batshit insanely ridiculous this one was. The most bailing-out I’ll do for you is that you didn’t mention the flash mob. One of the “epic summer” list events is that Elle and Lee have to pull off a flash mob, which, if they wrote this list as children, means they were weird fuckin children. Also the flash mob scene makes the Dear Evan Hansen trailer look like someone you’d be okay leaving your kids with.
This installment was like a weird rehashing of elements from the first two movies, but in that like The Force Awakens kind of way where you know you’ve seen it before and you don’t want that to bother you, but also you’ve seen it before and it very much bothers you. Except instead of lightsabers this is about teenagers and implied sex, so infinitely worse. Beyond that, like you said, it wants me to feel bad for a bunch of rich kids who are about to get richer when Molly Ringwald sells off her second home, which inexplicably looks like Floridian architecture and, more inexplicably, belongs to a family already residing in southern California. I thought you were supposed to buy a beach house like, somewhere else? Plus this house totally rules. Why wouldn’t you just live there permanently? But here I am, trying to make sense of a franchise that is otherwise totally nonsensical.
Let’s just jump to the end, where my two favorite moments of the franchise happen. First, Elle decides NOT to go to Berkeley OR Harvard. She somehow applies to and is accepted at USC at the 11th hour and gets into… their school of video game design. Throughout these films, there are weird, out-of-nowhere shots of Elle beating people at a fake Mortal Kombat at house parties, which serves to me as a bit of magical realism. In all of the flashbacks of Elle growing up, we never see her playing video games, so she’s not a trained gamer – she’s just naturally really good at video games. A hilarious quirk! Anyway, in her interview at USC, she’s asked to pitch a new video game. She draws a blank until she comes up with… fantasy football but for pro gamers. I think that’s just called “gambling,” but hey, USC’s never seen an illegal idea they didn’t like. That’ll teach you to put me on the waitlist, USC!
The next best part is when Elle and Jacob Elordi’s character whose name I no longer remember go to their high school reunion. This is hilarious because reunions are typically done on a class-to-class basis and Elordi was a year ahead of Elle, so he either fucked up and went to the wrong reunion or he went to her reunion on purpose. Also they fall in love all over again and Elle has a TERF/Karen haircut. I was dying. The only thing that happened to me at our last high school reunion was the same person offered me cocaine 3 times.
All in all, I’m glad we watched these because now, if a student ever brings them up, I’ll know exactly what kind of person I’m dealing with. These movies were boring at-best and absolutely detrimental to society at-worst. Only thing this booth can kiss is my ass, because I’m out of here.
THE CRINGE-IEST MOMENTS…
Top 5 Cringe-iest Moments (Margetis)
5. Epilogue – Post-College Reunion (Kissing Booth 3)
Like these people are going to remember their moderately interesting Santa Monica high school after five years of partying, sex, drugs and sorta becoming an adult in college. Yet, here they are, five years after the fact, hanging around their high school like it’s their long lost home, watching a new generation of horny idiots run a kissing booth. Elle’s brown pixie hair in this scene is enough to make you hurl, but even more gag inducing is the will they?/won’t they? tension between Elle and Nate. Run, Nate. Run faster than you ever ran. Get away. This is not what happiness looks like!
4. Elle Loses Her Virginity on the Hollywood Sign (Kissing Booth 1)
Elle and Nate have first time sex behind the Hollywood sign and it’s presented as a wonderfully clean and sanitary place to be intimate. WTF?! Their bare asses would be covered in needles and broken glass and they’d forever associate sexual intercourse with the smell of urine.
3. Harvard & Berkley Admissions Are Moved to Tears Reading Elle’s Application Essay (Kissing Booth 2)
Wow, Elle really knocked this one out of the park, you guys. She writes this unbelievably clueless rich white girl essay essentially about what this entire stupid movie franchise has been about and instead of rolling their eyes, Harvard and Berkley admissions are both moved to tears. Wow. Fuck you, Kissing Booth.
2. Elle’s “Just for Laughs” Sexual Assault (Kissing Booth 1)
Elle wants to be more sexy so she dresses up really “hot” and goes to school, so hot a gigantic football jock violently smacks her ass. He gets smacked in the face by Nate, but I don’t think he ever faces any disciplinary action for sexual assault. In fact, to bury the hatchet, Elle goes on a date with him and he stands her up. Eventually, this assault becomes an inside joke between the two up until the third installment. Yes, kill me.
1. The Flash Mob Scene (Kissing Booth 3)
Part of Lee and Elle’s stupid pre-College bucket list is organizing a flash mob. They pick a fancy beach restaurant where people are having the most important days of their lives – anniversaries, marriage proposals, celebrations in general — and then just start blasting Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance and bouncing off of tables, into people’s faces/food. It’s not even well choreographed, it’s just sloppy body flinging. After this egregiously disruptive act comes to a close, everyone in the restaurant applauds Elle and Lee. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT. Everywhere these fuckers go people kiss their ass. It’s like the entire world are their delusional parents.
Top 5 Cringe-iest Moments (Ben V.)
5. Lee’s Convertible Classic Mustang.
There’s no way you’d give that virgin that car. Lee is such an awful character to begin with. Like, giving him the cool, classic convertible makes him infinitely more punchable. The fact that it wasn’t a trope that he’s just constantly getting his ass beat is bewildering.
4. The Thanksgiving Scene.
I’m not even sure which installment it was in at this point, but there’s a whole Thanksgiving dinner that gets ruined because Elle, Lee, Nate, and their respective significant others/BFFs all start bickering. The minute someone starts talking shit at my Thanksgiving, they’re getting dropped. Shut up and eat the damn dinner Molly Ringwald spent all day making you!
3. The DDR Competition.
The most obvious bit of this franchise being written BY A 50 YEAR OLD MAN. No one plays this game anymore. Like, who the hell would go to a DDR tournament? Why is this a thing? Jesus.
2. The Treatment of Very Overt Sexual Assault.
Another clear indication this was written by a 50 year old man who has DEFINITELY said “lighten up, toots!” to more Hooters waitresses than you can count. As a school administrator, I can tell you, the response in this movie to that ass-grab was grounds for a lawsuit that would cripple whatever school district they were in permanently. Just an awful, awful scene to think would play for laughs in any year, but especially in 2021.
1. The Flash Mob Scene.
The hat-trick scene of outing the writer as a 50 year old. If you had a flash mob at your wedding or as part of your proposal, I think the city/county/state should be able to revoke your marriage license and sentence you to jail time. The idea of a flash mob is like… the posting pictures of your kid every month until they turn 3 of shit you can do for attention. I didn’t think flash mobs could get worse, but then they put Joey King in one. WOOF.
All are truly terrible, so it’s almost a tie. I guess 2 is the best cause it’s the least offensive, problematic and infuriating. 3 is the worst because it makes you painfully aware of how shallow, dumb and useless these teens are and how we’ve now spent 6 hours with them.
- The Kissing Booth 2
- The Kissing Booth
- The Kissing Booth 3
I’m going to pull an audible here:
- The Kissing Booth 2
- Leprechaun 3
- The Force Awakens
On the Next Franchise w/ Me…
My roommate Michael Palladino and I dive into the Child’s Play series which includes six sequels and one disappointing remake.