Like any good, no sorry, great act of storytelling, The Kissing Booth franchise creates secure, steady relationships to then, with one unsparing sledgehammer after the other, unsteady it. Elle (Joey King) is best friends with Lee (Joel Courtney). Elle is also in a relationship with Noah (Jacob Elordi), Lee’s elder brother who is studying at Harvard. This is a love that tested friendship, and friendship that tested love. The first two films, also directed by Vince Marcello, helped create these solid grounds ready to be shaken up, and the third and last film of the franchise, based on Beth Reekles’ books, is just one shudder after the other, from the very outset.
Elle and Lee are deciding how to spend their last summer before they head to college. Lee is headed to Berkeley, while Elle has to first make her decision of whom to go to college with — super hot boyfriend on the East coast, or super steady friend on the West coast. She spends the summer before college with Noah and Lee at their beach-house, trying to thumb through a list Lee and Elle made as kids, a wish-list of all things summer. There’s brain freeze, cliff jumps, pie-eating contests, donuts, sand castles, Helium karaoke, and cosplaying characters you held onto with cloying ownership as kids. There is just one moment where we are jolted into realizing that Elle isn’t as rich as Lee and Noah, when a bitchy classmate whines, “Aren’t you poor?” as she opens the door to a party at their beach house. But otherwise, neither her class status nor their class difference is given the space it usually would in such relationships. This film, like its hot-blue-LA-summer aesthetic, neither intends nor attempts realism.
Slowly, but surely, the cracks widen. Elle wants to go to Harvard with Noah and is feeling the guilt of being an awful best friend, or bestie as they like to call each other, to Lee. She over-promises. She has a small brother who needs babysitting on nights her single-father is pursuing love with a woman after years of widowerhood. She over-promises. She takes up extra shifts at the local bistro for extra cash for college. She over-promises. Not to forget Noah, her jacketed jock of a boyfriend, to whom she over-promises her time. What remains to be seen is one implosion after another — a carpet bombing of the expectations she promises.
The beauty and the promise of this movie is that the conflicts don’t tire easily, as they very well could, given the frequency of it. Then, there is also the unique achievement of such a film not becoming just a sum-total of these conflicts. In the midst of all the promises she made to other people — lovers, friends, parents — she had forgotten what she owed herself. The arc given to Elle is relentless — giving her fire hoops to jump through — but is ultimately kind, giving her the space to not just articulate to herself but to those around her, that she is the main character of her story — hot boyfriend, demanding bestie be damned.
This is also how this film is different from its predecessors. In those films, there was a distinct need for a character’s arc vis-a-vis other characters to be given closure, while the character as an individual is still left shaking, unsure of themselves. Here, it isn’t like the film is tired of coupling and uncoupling, but it gives each character the catharsis they demand as an individual before finally pairing them up. It’s a sweet bow-tying of all the people you got to know over three films as they fling themselves into the world. There is no bitterness, but only a clawing sense of hope — the best way to say farewell.