Prior to watching The Kissing Booth 2, I wasn’t sure whether it was possible to feel nostalgia for something that you hated and still do hate. But I was proven wrong – in retrospect, the original Kissing Booth actually means a surprising amount to my career as a film critic. It was the first film I reviewed for a site other than my own, the first screener I was given access to, and after it was published, my first review to be quoted on Rotten Tomatoes and to receive a decent amount of attention. Ironically, I chose it specifically because it seemed as though it would fly under the radar of most, meaning that the review wouldn’t have too much pressure on it – on the contrary, it was for a long time one of five on RT, and therefore got far more clicks than anything else I’ve written. But again, this isn’t to say that I have much affection for the film; its pacing is bizarre, its editing is amateurish, and the motivations of its characters render most of them either stupid or insidious. So does the sequel improve upon its lackluster predecessor?
In short, yes. This time, Elle is struggling to handle her long-distance relationship with bad-boy Noah now that he’s gone off to college having somehow miraculously gotten into Harvard. As well as meaning that there are thankfully fewer scenes of him beating people for glancing at him the wrong way, this also makes room for a rival love interest in the form of Marco, presumably the only other teenager to actively enjoy Dance Dance Revolution in 2020. This works somewhat better than the creepily possessive best friend plot from the first film, which here is regulated to being a B plot. Not the B plot, a B plot, because this film has an unbelievable amount going on and constantly loses focus. During the course of it, I counted around 5 separate storylines that barely converge in any kind of meaningful way, making it’s mammoth 2 hours and 11-minute length almost unbearable. In fact, at points The Kissing Booth 2 feels more like you’re binge-watching a sub-par Netflix Original Series than following a singular, cohesive story.
Joey King reprises her role as Elle here, and this actress truly needs to take on some better projects. Following a stellar Emmy nominated performance as Gypsy Rose Blanchard in The Act, King has continued to star in painfully bad teen romcoms and horror movies, and unlike the rest of the cast, she’s far better than both. Despite the embarrassing script, also based upon a book by the same teen who wrote the original, King’s chemistry with other actors often keeps scenes afloat. The same can’t be said for Jacob Elordi – I’m sure he’s perfectly nice offscreen, but in The Kissing Booth 2 he may be one of the least charismatic male leads I’ve ever seen in a teen movie, mostly just relegated to standing around shirtless, looking vaguely angry.
Aside from the length, which is almost unforgivable, the filmmaking itself felt like an improvement on the original and had fewer glaring flaws aside from the odd distracting continuity issue. The runaway success of the original means that the sequel is far grander in budget and scope, which at least means that some of the visuals (particularly the dance competition) can match the absurd melodrama of the action. The soundtrack also aims for a more retro California feel, and as much as I was personally rather hurt by Marcello forever linking Good Vibrations with this terrible franchise at the close, I can’t fault the taste of whoever chose these tunes, even if they feel oddly irrelevant to these gen Z characters who don’t have much of a noted interest in old music.
I wish I could recommend this movie off the basis of its ridiculousness a la the original, it’s length entirely prevents this from being an enjoyable experience – at an hour and a half in I felt as though it was never going to end. But in spite of this, I can’t say that I was as mad at this movie as the original. There was much less blatant exploitation of King’s cutesy schoolgirl image, I don’t recall her being casually sexually harassed, and the underlying unpleasantness that made the first so hard to swallow was generally a non-presence. Alas, Elle’s story was not adequately wrapped up in this movie, which ends on a sequel teasing cliffhanger.
I’m already bracing myself.