As far as teenage romantic comedies go, The Kissing Booth 2 is bad but not horrible. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, law and societal order breaking down, and extreme weather conditions adding to the misery, watching a mindless 131-minute Netflix comedy that’s not horrible seems like a good way to forget about the fruits handed to us so far by the year 2020.

The film’s saving grace is Joey King, who plays the film’s lead, Elle Evans. An Emmy and Golden Globe Nominee, Joey has been in several excellent films and TV shows and is on the verge of superstardom. Despite the one-dimensional characterisation, Joey makes her character entertaining to watch, with a charismatic and bubbly performance. I’m sure that the producers are holding the young actor to a contract, and are lucky to have her, considering the state of the rest of the film.

But yes, this is a sequel. In the first film, high school student Elle developed a bad crush on the handsome Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi). This was problematic because she was best friends with his younger brother Lee (Joel Courtney), whom she had grown up with. The two had agreed to never date each other’s relatives, to keep their friendship intact. However, Elle breaks this rule. When Lee walks in on Elle and Noah kissing, he is heartbroken. Eventually, Lee accepts their relationship, but the film ends on an uncertain note when Noah heads off to college.

Elle Evans is the saving grace of The Kissing Booth 2, which has a storyline so contrived, it might have been better off as a TV show

In this sequel, Elle is struggling with several issues. She doesn’t know whether to apply to Harvard to be with Noah, or to stick to her plans to go to UC Berkeley with Lee. Aside from being able to go to school with her best friend, Elle wants to go to Berkeley to maintain tradition — after all, that’s where Elle’s mother met Lee’s mother, and the two became best friends.

On the other hand, Elle is deeply insecure about her relationship with Noah. Long-distance relationships are tough as it is, and Noah has always been popular with the opposite sex. To make matters worse, Noah has made friends with a pretty girl named Chloe Winthrop (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), who is giving him enough attention to make Elle even more upset. Noah tries to reassure Elle that nothing is going on between him and Chloe, but this puts another strain on their relationship. Meanwhile, a handsome new transfer student named Marco V. Peña (Taylor Zakhar Perez) is also catching Chole’s attention.

Phew. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are enough plots and subplots in The Kissing Booth 2 to fill several films. The narrative feels so contrived that you wonder whether this film would have been better served as a TV show on Netflix instead.

Whether you are a teenager or remember what it was like to be one, you can appreciate that there’s an element of truth to the drama in The Kissing Booth 2. Unfortunately, it lacks nuance, good characterisation, and offers too many regressive relationship stereotypes. While The Kissing Booth 2 isn’t a horrible film, you can, like Elle, do much better.

Not rated

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 9th, 2020

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