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What I most appreciate about the Kissing Booth rom-com trilogy is that it’s savvy enough to know when to indulge in outlandish adolescent wish-fulfillment and brave enough to depict its teen protagonists as realistically drunk, horny revelers. Based on the book series by Beth Reekles, who was a teenager herself when she imagined what would happen if a spunky video gamer finally grew boobs and ended up seducing the high school bad boy, the films have no compunctions about showcasing underage pleasure. Kids make sex tapes in their high school classrooms, casually down shots without any subsequent preachiness and fall into bed like giddy newlyweds.
While sexual realism was commonplace in the classic teen comedies of the 1980s, Netflix’s current revival of the genre mainly features wimps and wieners wishing on a star for a dainty little kiss. (Or so I’ve interpreted.) I’ve written before about how The Kissing Booth and its sequel, while frivolous overall, are still the rare mainstream films in this day and age that allow their teen heroine (Joey King) any sexual freedom at all without making her pay with humiliation, slut-shaming or emotional turmoil. Simply put, Elle Evans fucks.
The Kissing Booth 3
Or, rather, she exclusively fucks her best friend’s brother, Noah Flynn (Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi), the motorcycle-riding hunk she’s been dating since her post-pubescent glow-up in the first film. In the franchise’s final chapter, Elle has graduated from a love triangle to a love hexagon that involves her boyfriend, her platonic best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), Lee’s new Berkeley friends, the random hot guy who enticed her in the second film and returned for more masochism (Taylor Zakhar Perez) and her boyfriend’s hot/rich college friend who, for some reason, shows up to cry about her divorcing parents (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Everyone is disappointing everyone else. What happened to “girls just wanna have fun?”
If The Kissing Booth 3 stuck with its opening premise and maintained an air of idealistic summer anarchy for the entire story, the film might have been a mindless blast. Elle, Noah and Lee convince the boys’ parents to let them stay at the family beach house one last summer before they all skip off to college. It’s the perfect plan: The kids get to play house for a few months, “helping” the Flynns prepare for a sale to beachfront condo developers while they host pool party ragers for weeks on end. As demonstrated by all resort-set special vacation episodes of classic sitcoms (or even the one-off summer series Baby-Sitter’s Club books), the summer getaway concept succeeds thanks to carefree novelty and low-stakes misadventures. I wanted no conflict, really, just hangouts and escapades. Sun, beaches, bikinis.
But director Vince Marcello somehow ends up turning this breezy summer fantasy into a kitchen sink drama. Elle can’t seem to please anyone: not taciturn Noah, who mistakenly thinks she can’t wait to join him at Harvard in the fall; not clingy Lee, who plans to spend every waking minute of this final summer with her despite her other obligations; not her widowed father, who just wants her to get to know his new girlfriend with an open mind; not pretty boy Marco, who still wants to be with her even after she broke his heart months ago. Throw in Elle’s waitressing job, some rehashed jealousy palaver and endless handwringing over college decisions, and you’ve got yourself an overstuffed threequel at least 30 minutes too long. The film sags under the weight of all those storylines until the last five minutes.
In addition to its narrative bloat, The Kissing Booth 3 looks like it’s coming apart at the seams. Some green-screened background CGI appears as phony as old-timey painted movie sets, and whether King’s long brunette mane was real or not is immaterial because, no matter what, it looks like a sheitel.
The cast knows they’re churning out cloying fluff, though, and they’re clearly having the time of their lives. King, a ham, has more natural onscreen chemistry with goofy Courtney than she does with brooding Elordi, who ascended to dark HBO fare not long after The Kissing Booth originally debuted. King and Courtney’s BFF duo spend their last summer of childhood recementing their fractured relationship by completing a beach bucket list, which has the two actors guzzling down pie, karaoke-ing nostalgic jams, sumo wrestling in fat suits and cosplaying Nintendo characters during a real-life Mario Kart relay. There’s a lot of screeching in this movie.
Elle doesn’t connect with other girls her age, preferring to spend all her energy focused on the emotional hair-triggers of the men in her life. She has no idea why she wants to go to Harvard, other than the fact that Noah goes there. We don’t know her goals and neither does she (although she’s frequently told she’s brilliant, for some undemonstrated reason). At some point, Elle runs away crying from the Hollywood sign, which is about as hilarious as her motorcycling off into the sunset with Noah on numerous occasions. However, the film does something unexpectedly audacious with its last few moments, making me wonder if there’s at least a little nutrition in cloying fluff.
Cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young
Production companies: Clearblack Films, Komixx Entertainment, Picture Loom
Director: Vince Marcello
Screenwriter: Vince Marcello, Jay Arnold
Producers: Carl Beyer, Darren Cameron, Andrew Cole-Bulgin, Ed Glauser, Vince Marcello, Michele Weisler
Executive producers: Adam Friedlander, Joey King
Director of photography: Anastas N. Michos
Production designer: Iñigo Navarro
Music: Patrick Kirst
Editor: Paul Millspaugh
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