Director: Vince Marcello
Writer: Vince Marcello, Jay Arnold
Cinematographer: Anastas N. Michos
Editor: Paul Millspaugh
Cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Taylor Perez
Producer: Ed Glauser, Andrew Cole-Bulgin, Vince Marcello, Michele Weisler
Streaming Platform: Netflix
There is something charming about the friendship between Elle Evans (Joey King) and Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney), one that continues the tapestry of their mother’s thick-as-blood-warm-as-LA proximity. It has this radical no-sex-touch quality that also never feels like sibling-hood, as if they are wired to never feel anything for each other from the nether-regions of the body. (There isn’t even a moment when they attempt to kiss and realize it’s awful, and revert to platonic-hood.)
Elle’s mother is no more and so their families flow into this unspoken, uneasy relationship between what is and isn’t permissible. The waters get tested when Elle finds herself attracted to Noah (Jacob Elordi), Lee’s elder brother, the high-school lothario in a leather jacket. But by the end of the first The Kissing Booth, they are together, and Noah heads to Harvard, on the other side of the country. The trappings of a long-distance relationship sets up one of the main conflicts in The Kissing Booth 2, also based on Beth Reekles’ books. The other is a new entrant to the high school, the “seriously luscious” Mario (Taylor Perez) who serenades in Spanish and smirks in the satanic tongue of teenage lust.
Elle and Lee’s friendship is covenanted. They want to remain friends together-forever that they decided to pen down clauses to steer the friendship in the right direction. The tension comes when their innermost longings or intuitions go against these clauses. It’s a fascinating construction of friendship where legalese and affections are interchangeable. It is also a bit on the nose and frustrating when they keep citing it to each other.
Similar to To All The Boys, the second part of this series has affections that feel much more immediate, for the characters are already set up, and the only job remaining now is to cohere the characters into a pulpy plot. This movie does that very well, folding within the teenage hormones a dance competition, college applications, friendship that is tested by love, and love that is tested by distance.
Both the boys who have their eyes on Elle are endowed with abs, silver chains, sharp noses and right-out-of-bed gruff deep voices. Both bite their lips, smirk, purse and stare, and it is disgusting how effective all of it is. Even the puerile punches like saying something on the school speaker by mistake humour.
There is a fairytale quality to this movie where students spend hours in the arcade near rose tinted sunny piers, guzzling gas as they drive on bikes and spend lonely hours under the O of the Hollywood Sign. The central conceit of putting up a ‘Kissing Booth’ is here too, but instead of being the space where the drama unspools as in the first part, here, the booth becomes a site of closure.
Noah at Harvard befriends a black British beauty, Chloe Winthrop (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) who regales with stories of adventures by the River Zambezi in perfectly glossed lips, and this becomes cause for insecurity in Elle and friction in their relationship. This friction is intensified because everyone just prefers to elude confrontation, but it is ironic because everything in the story is tumbling ferociously towards a heated confrontation where all evidence is checked, refuted and concluded in kisses and proclamations of love.
What I loved about the first Kissing Booth which is also what I loved about this one is how it ends giving closure to all characters vis-a-vis each other, but not as individuals. Everyone knows how everyone feels about each other, but not themselves. This is perhaps because the point of such stories is to give us two people to root for together, and not one person to always hold close; an individual exists for the sole reason to be coupled. There is also a sweet homosexual side-story that gets its due. When the lovers finally kiss as they will, as you must have predicted, the boy looks around at everyone to see that… hey, no one is booing me, I can kiss a boy I like and it’s alright. This is entirely unlike the straight pairings, where a kiss is a longing stare and its aftermath is a loving stare. Oh the trappings of sweet love untested by time or tide.