When it premiered in 2018, The Kissing Booth marked Netflix’s first real foray into the realm of teen romantic comedies, and it was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Kissing Booth 2, which hits the streaming service this week. While The Kissing Booth was adapted from Beth Reekles’ 2012 book of the same name, The Kissing Booth 2 pulls from her sequel, 2020’s Going the Distance. The movie sequel also sees the return of writer-director Vince Marcello, though this time he co-wrote the script with newcomer Jay Arnold. The Kissing Booth 2 has some fun moments, especially for fans, but is ultimately an overwrought, overstuffed and overlong teen romcom sequel.
Picking up where the first movie left off, The Kissing Booth 2 follows Elle (Joey King) in her senior year of high school, with her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) 3,000 miles away at Harvard. However, their relationship faces some conflict when Elle grows suspicious of Noah’s new friend Chloe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), and she turns to new classmate Marco (Taylor Perez), who’s agreed to help Elle win a dance competition. Making her life more complicated, Elle constantly hanging out with her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney) and his girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young) puts a strain on their relationship. It all comes to a head when Noah returns home for Thanksgiving, and Elle is forced to confront not only the issues in her own relationship but those in her friendships as well. If it’s not readily apparent by this summary, there’s a lot going on in The Kissing Booth 2 and very little of it makes sense.
At the center of The Kissing Booth 2, Marcello has constructed a solid, if cliche, romance storyline between Elle, Noah and Marco. The young couple is facing their first real challenges with Noah away at school and Elle tempted by a new romance with Marco. That storyline alone could have sustained The Kissing Booth 2, and the filmmakers should have kept it that simple. A well done romcom is difficult to pull off, especially when replicating a story that’s been done before – as many romcoms do. But Marcello and Arnold’s script instead just keeps adding and adding to the story. Lee and Rachel get their own plot that could have been the basis of their own movie, and two supporting characters get a romantic subplot of their own that feels hamfisted in to deliver on the exclusively gay moment in the first film. In the end, there’s too much going on and very little of it ties together well.
With so many storylines, The Kissing Booth 2 would’ve benefitted from a central theme, but there’s nothing of the kind – or at least, nothing beyond “love is great.” Even the resolution of the love triangle between Elle, Noah and Marco – when any other romcom would drive home its theme – The Kissing Booth 2 rushes through to get to the end. In fact, there’s too much happening in The Kissing Booth 2 for the filmmakers to slow down and unpack Elle and Noah’s relationship, it’s simply taken for granted that they’re destined to be together. Of course, if The Kissing Booth 2 did slow down at all, it would’ve ended up an even more bloated movie. With an already over-two-hour runtime, the film cannot afford to take any extra time, even to focus on its core relationship or nail down a central theme. As it is, The Kissing Booth 2 already feels too long, and the sequel likely could’ve been helped by being trimmed down to a shorter runtime as it would’ve forced more cohesion in the story.
If The Kissing Booth 2 does have any kind of central theses it’s that the movie was crafted specifically for fans of The Kissing Booth, to the exclusion of anyone else. There are plenty of callbacks to the first movie, especially in the opening sequences, to drive home the point that this movie is for the fans and no one else. Beyond that, The Kissing Booth 2 does have some fun moments, particularly to do with Marco, who’s far more interesting than the rest of the movie. There’s also plenty of The Kissing Booth’s goofy humor and some cringe comedy, though the one main cringey joke goes on for far too long as to be excruciating. Still, the sequel has some cute moments, even if they aren’t well-earned by the plot or character development.
Ultimately, The Kissing Booth 2 was clearly made for fans of the first movie who just want more of the same. But whereas The Kissing Booth had a kind of goofy, cliche charm, The Kissing Booth 2 delivers dizzying distraction in too much story and spectacle to hide the fact that it’s not really saying anything. As a result, fans of The Kissing Booth may want to check out The Kissing Booth 2, but shouldn’t expect a sequel that elevates or even really builds on the first film. For those who didn’t particularly like The Kissing Booth or never had the desire to give it a watch, The Kissing Booth 2 is entirely missable. Even at a time when there are few new movies releasing, viewers would do better watching something else (like the far superior 2020 Netflix sequel to a 2018 teen romcom, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You).
The Kissing Booth 2 is now streaming on Netflix. It is 130 minutes long and rated TV-14.
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