According to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, The Kissing Booth is "one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe in the world," at the moment, and well, it really shouldn't be. The fact that millions of impressionable teens have indulged in the teen flick is cause for alarm. Even scarier is that a Kissing Booth sequel is on the horizon. I'm not saying we have to shun every teen rom-com that comes our way, but The Kissing Booth has all the ingredients a flick for young viewers shouldn't have. The movie is problematic at best and, blinded by the cash, Netflix seems oblivious.
An adaptation of a story first published on Wattpad (penned by author Beth Reekles when she was only 15 years old), the film follows Elle (Joey King) and her best friend, Lee (Joel Courtney), who govern their friendship with an absurdly long list of rules. The most important? Never date each other's family members. When Elle falls head over heels for Lee's older brother, Noah (Jacob Elordi), the boy she swore would always be off-limits, things get complicated.
The Kissing Booth thrives off a forbidden love trope — the same we've seen too many times in films like10 Things I Hate About You and The Notebook — but my real concern is the way it perpetuates the male gaze, abusive relationships, toxic masculinity, underage drinking, and sexual assault.
For starters, when Elle comes to school wearing a tiny skirt, she's assaulted by catcalls. She even gets slapped in the butt by a classmate, which results in Noah telling every boy in school to stay away from her under the pretense he's trying to "protect" her. Then, he tells Elle wearing such skimpy clothing to class is basically "asking for it." Really, Netflix? To make matters worse, the guy who grabbed Elle gets a meager day of detention as punishment. Later, he has the audacity to ask her out on a date, which she shockingly accepts. In the end, she gets stood up anyway because Noah threatens him.
Are you gagging yet?
When Elle and Lee set up a kissing booth for a school fundraiser, she ends up kissing Noah, and the two begin a secret relationship to protect Lee's feelings. Noah shows his true colors when he becomes increasingly violent and attacks just about anyone who comes in contact with Elle. When confronted about his anger issues, he claims it's "kinda just how I'm wired." Ew. Elle tries to put him in his place, and gives him an ultimatum: Stop his violent behavior or they're done. He brushes it off and says, "You know, you’re cute when you’re bossy."
Lee eventually finds out about their relationship, and emotionally manipulates Elle into breaking it off with his brother. Eventually, he gets into a physical altercation with Noah, and we discover he sees Elle as a person he "owns" — he describes Elle as a thing he doesn't want to share with anyone else, rather than someone he truly cares about. "You know, my whole life Noah has gotten everything that he has ever wanted," he tells her. "The only thing that I had that he didn't was you. And now he has that too."
Viewers quickly realize Lee and Noah are fighting for ownership over Elle, instead of recognizing her as a person with complete agency — a competent, strong individual who knows how to make her own decisions.
It's easy to mistake The Kissing Booth as a frivolous, enjoyable film given its attractive cast and picturesque setting (seriously, it makes California look like Eden), but it falls flat in offering anything of value. It completely misses the opportunity to make Elle realize her autonomy, stand up for herself, and not let anyone tell her what to do with her own body.
The world doesn't need any more films spattered with sexist themes, Netflix. I think I'm going to pass up on that sequel.