THE KISSING BOOTH (2018) Movie Review – A Horribly Written Teen Rom-Com
The Kissing Booth is a Netflix original high school romantic comedy based on Beth Reekles‘ novel of the same and is written and directed by Vince Marcello of straight to DVD pre-teen family film fame… Netflix in recent years seems to continue producing quality films and TV series’ that have adopted a teen high school setting, i.e., Everything Sucks!, but this is not one of those quality examples. The film follows Elle (Joey King), a girl who has never been kissed and decides to open her own kissing booth. After unexpectedly kissing her crush and best friend’s brother she must decide whether to choose between love or friendship.Where the Fifty Shades franchise is the romantic fantasy of a 48 year old woman, The Kissing Booth is the romantic fantasy of a 15 year old girl and it’s nearly as bad. The movie is incredibly poorly written for the majority of it, the dialogue is atrocious, humour doesn’t work as intended, and the way the entire story falls together and develops doesn’t feel natural at all. Tonally it sits somewhere between the campy self-awareness of a Disney Channel teen comedy like Hannah Montana (2006) or romantic comedy like High School Musical (2006), and the serious emotional coming-of-age drama in something like The Edge of Seventeen (2016). And neither side of the spectrum is executed well…
The first two thirds of the movie are disastrous and it almost entirely comes down to the writing which makes it so hard to watch. The dialogue especially is a laughable mess and it’s like it was written by someone who simply doesn’t understand how high school students talk or behave. None of the conversations come across as feeling natural, and you can tell this is the product of an out of touch older man writing the dialogue for high school teens. When characters are just dropping OMG’s and LOL’s mid-sentence it’s just stupid and makes for an utterly cringeworthy watch. Almost every sequence taking place within the high school is so stupid and horribly written it becomes borderline repulsive. There is one scene in particular involving a trampoline so hilariously awful that it honestly made me want to throw in the towel and do something better with my time. The attempt at humour is a complete train-wreck and none of it works in the slightest. This movie is like that one friend who wholly believes they’re 100% funny and even laughs at their own jokes to reinforce the fact but everyone knows it’s terrible. There are a couple of humorous moments but they come from laughing AT the utter stupidity and ridiculousness and not WITH it.
The story overall doesn’t offer much in terms of originality and you basically know more or less how it’s going to turn out. But that’s fine if the journey is good and offers a few unique twists and turns along the way to make it a worthwhile watch… not here though. The majority of the characters are more annoying than they are compelling and constantly make dumb decisions that contradict their personality established in the scene prior. Not really caring about the core group of characters and the central romance doesn’t bode well for being able to enjoy the story which for the most part doesn’t have a lot to it. The story is literally the dating best friend’s brother conflict from The Edge of Seventeen and that’s it. It barely goes deeper into anything else and so there’s nothing in here to really latch onto. As far as the performances go Joey King is the only one who did bring some likeable qualities and charisma to her character elevating some scenes to be watchable at the very least. But none of the other performances from the main cast including Joel Courtney and Jacob Elordi who play brothers Lee and Noah do anything to elevate the dialogue, and they’re both inherently boring to watch. When Molly Ringwald manages to bring more heart, emotion, and character to the film with only 3 minutes of screen-time you’re doing something wrong.
But surprisingly the movie isn’t all disastrously horrible. Going into the third act the horrible teen dialogue and constant unfunny humour is heavily subdued and the film goes for a more serious emotionally driven conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an insanely jarring tonal shift where it goes from coming-of-age comedy to coming-of-age emotional drama like that, but as long as it gets me away from the crap of the first two acts I’m fine. This is where the charisma that Joey bought to her character early on slightly pays off as it does help to buy into and somewhat care about where her story goes in this final act. I can’t say I liked this final act but it’s definitely a very welcome change of pace and tone considering the quality of the crap it transitioned from. It touches on the emotional side of things but without any of that in the previous two acts to really build upon it doesn’t have much of an impact.
So, in the end it turns out that if you take a book written by a 15 year old girl and have an adult male adapt it into a film script The Kissing Booth will be the result. From the look of the trailer I had the feeling this was going to be a very cliche teen romantic comedy and it’s more or less exactly what I had anticipated. The first two acts are riddled with a terrible story, even worse dialogue, and humour that falls flat constantly. The third act very oddly switches tones and where the transition isn’t done well at least what we get in that third act is actually decently watchable because it does away with the high school campiness from before. I think if any demographic is going to genuinely enjoy this movie it’d have to be limited to girls in their mid-teens otherwise the only genuine enjoyment I can see others getting out of this is laughing at the stupidity of the story and dialogue.