The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)
Director: Vince Marcello
Screenwriters: Vince Marcello, Jay S. Arnold
Starring: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Stephen Jennings, Molly Ringwald
At long last, Vince Marcello’s final instalment of The Kissing Booth trilogy has arrived on Netflix. Despite a sloppy sequel in the form of The Kissing Booth 2 and a central cast who has arguably aged out of the cheesy and childish narrative – in both appearance and popularity – the phenomenon surrounding the teen-movie series has far from fizzled. It began when fifteen-year-old Beth Reekles posted her original story to Wattpad (a social media creative writing site) and rapidly gleaned over nineteen million views and an ensuing book deal with Random House. The popularity of the contemporary teen characters led to a Netflix adaptation and ensuing global success for all involved, with each bright and peppy instalment notching up viewing figures and fan engagement.
The Kissing Booth 3 marks the end of an era and the close of Elle Evans’s (Joey King’s) tumultuous journey caught between her best friend, Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney), and his smoking-hot older brother Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi). There are slim pickings in terms of plot – we catch up with Elle stuck in the same position we left her in at the close of The Kissing Booth 2 , and with university rapidly approaching, Elle realises that she can no longer bury her head in the sand and must pick between moving to Boston with her boyfriend to attend Harvard or remaining in California with her best friend to attend Berkley. You might think that to get into either of these Ivy League schools, you might, at the very least, have an interest in school or studying, but you’d be wrong: we don’t see Elle so much as even open a book. In the end, Elle isn’t persuaded by either school’s prestigious reputation; she’s swayed more by the idea of moving in with Noah and the prospect of having his rocking hot body on tap. So, she chooses Harvard over Lee, scrapping their lifelong promise to attend the same college.
With the opportunity to spend one final summer at the Flynn’s Beach House – which, despite protest, Lee’s Mum and Dad plan to sell for millions of dollars – Elle makes plans to pull off the perfect summer in order to make things right, promising Lee that they will complete all twenty-two childhood-fantasy inspired activities on their Beach Bucket List. Said list includes a slushy drinking competition, a Mario Kart themed go-kart race, taking part in a flash mob, cliff diving and sumo wrestling, to name but a few. Everything seems perfect, but with her time so thinly spread between completing the Bucket List, working long hours at her summer waitressing job and babysitting her younger brother, Elle’s perfect relationship with her bad-boy boyfriend begins to splinter, especially when their respective old flames arrive on the scene. With her relationship on the rocks, Elle starts to question if moving across the country for her gorgeous guy will be the right thing for her in the long run.
The Kissing Booth 3 is less of a film and more of a series of wacky montages. All within the first twenty-five minutes we are treated to a fun vacation montage, which documents everything Elle and friends have been getting up to since the close of The Kissing Booth 2, followed by a quirky cleaning montage, then a jam-packed beach activities montage. The film is bursting at the seams with hodge-podge ideas, colour, expensive-looking houses, cars and activities, but the more the film piles on, the more difficult it becomes to see the wood for the trees. It’s as if Marcello is making it up as he goes, unsure what direction he’s aiming for exactly. A tale of struggling friendship? A romance? A story about a young girl becoming a woman? To make matters worse, he makes room to shoehorn an unoriginal family drama into the proceedings. Elle’s father (Stephen Jennings) – who’s been nothing more than a simple background character in the previous movies – suddenly announces the existence of his new girlfriend. However, much to his disappointment, Elle is too concerned with her beach plans and hot boyfriend to entertain this idea for more than a second. All this while Marcello desperately tries to make use of Molly Ringwald, who teeters around the edge of the narrative for some unknown reason. Let’s just say, The Kissing Booth 3 has a bad case of let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
The Kissing Booth pales in comparison to its novel-to-screen YA contemporaries. Last year we saw To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Lara Jean Tovey in a similar situation, stuck between a promise and a desire to attend college in a different city to that of her dreamy boyfriend. However, The Kissing Booth’s Elle isn’t allowed the same space for self-exploration as Lara Jean, and as such, we fail to see her actualise a version of herself outside of her relationship. Throughout the To All the Boys series, both Lara Jean and her beau Peter Kaminsky mature, dealing with complicated and frightening emotions that come with grief, anxiety, self-worth, abandonment and growing up. Yet, in the case of Noah and Elle, their personalities remain paper-thin and their worldview shallow. We see Marcello make a last-ditch attempt to infuse some kind of personality in Elle towards the end of the movie when she randomly decides to pursue a future in video game design, despite having never mentioned an interest in games throughout all three films. However, the last-minute development feels half-hearted, like a disappointing effort to make the same mature statement To All the Boys delivered so well.
It isn’t even as if The Kissing Booth 3 matches the hot and heavy energy of its other YA rival, After. While the After franchise does give The Kissing Booth a run for its money in terms of sheer cringe-inducing cheesiness, at least Tessa and her hunk Hardin aren’t afraid of getting a little steamy. The Kissing Booth 3 hints at the possibility of sex, but the non-existent chemistry between King and Elordi leaves that idea dead in the water. The pair seem terribly unsuited; with his towering height and feeble characterisation, Elordi seems incredibly awkward in his role. In fact, every moment Elordi spends on screen seems downright physically painful for him.
Coming in at just short of two hours, The Kissing Booth 3 is an arduous endeavour made up of wooden acting, recycled ideas and annoying dialogue. Overall, it is a disappointing end to an already tedious franchise.