‘The Kissing Booth 3’ Review: Overstuffed, Repetitive, Sometimes Fun. This Final Kiss Is Purely Fan Service
I am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and teen rom-coms definitely are gifts that you can open and use to shake you out of some sad funk. You know, like PMSing or not being able to take a summer vacation because of a pandemic. But not all gifts can make you that happy, especially if they’re something you’ve outgrown. Netflix kept building The Kissing Booth franchise because of a select audience (that includes me more often than not) that loved TKB, To All The Boys, and the several other offerings in the streaming service’s kitty. However, at least To All The Boys made an effort to stick out and do something different. The Kissing Booth 3, the final film in the The Kissing Booth franchise, just keeps resorting to the same old montages, tropes and adolescent dilemmas, and ends up robbing these characters of any dimension or growth. At points, it even regresses on character development. And yet, this third film, starring Joey King, Joel Courtney, and Jacob Elordi, has its fun moments and touching scenes, and lots of fan service for the booth’s loyal visitors.
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The Kissing Booth 2 and 3 were filmed back-to-back. And director Vince Marcello, who also writes the film along with Jay Arnold, insisted that the cast see them not as two instalments but as one big film, since the TKB3 picks up right after the events of TKB 2.
Elle, Lee, and Rachel have graduated. Lee and Rachel have already decided where they will be going to college, and are preparing to spend the summer together (with Elle and Noah, of course) before trying out long distance. But Elle has a major dilemma. Should she go to UC Berkeley with her BFF Lee as they’d planned since childhood? Or should she go off to Boston, where Harvard and sharing an apartment with her hot boyfriend Noah awaits? This dilemma is basically the crux of the film, and once again brings out the recurrent theme of the franchise—coming-of-age and choosing between love and friendship.
Also Read: 5 Thoughts I Had About ‘The Kissing Booth 3’ Trailer: Elle Already Has New Problems. Did We Have To Bring Old Ones Back?
The Kissing Booth 3 is overstuffed
Much like the second film, The Kissing Booth 3 is laden (to the point of being crammed) with secondary plots. For one, the Flynns are determined to sell their unreal-looking beach house because they cannot afford to keep up, plus it has to be torn down to make way for new condos. ICYMI, there’s a metaphor there about stripping the old to make way for change. But one metaphor is not enough, so we get another in the form of a new romantic interest for Elle’s widower father. This done to death trope goes exactly how you’d expect it goes—Elle hates the perfectly nice lady, then throws a tantrum, then finally warms up to her. Metaphor isn’t the only MVP here though. The MVP from TKB2, Marco (Taylor Zakhar-Perez) re-enters Elle’s life and naturally, Elle’s love life with Noah is headed on a collision course with Marco’s determination to win Elle back or something.
Thankfully, this movie is actually more about platonic friendship than it is about love triangles, so when Elle chooses to got to college with Noah instead of Lee, she uses a summer bucket list from their childhood to make up with Lee, promising him that the time they have together will be their best summer till date. Add to that a summer job and babysitting duties and all the other drama that comes with two hot boys fighting over ya, and Elle’s life is hot girl summer on the outside but sad and exhausted girl summer on the inside.
Off the top of my head, at least two of these subplots could’ve been tossed out the window to make room for some genuine character development here. Because let’s be honest, it just looks like they were all piled on Elle to push her to breaking point. At one point during the movie, I just remember thinking that Elle is either having the time of her life or she’s crying, there’s no in-between normal for her.
The Kissing Booth franchise has always been big on montages, and watching them is like watching a celebrity home video. In this case, the whole southern California beach house vibe make these montages fun to watch. But NGL, after a point, they gave the impression that this wasn’t a movie, but some kind of a vlog with clunky narration by Elle. There was lot of telling and not enough showing, which doesn’t exactly a good film make.
I won’t deny, since I have been invested in the franchise since its inception, I did have fun watching them play out, particularly some truly inspired bucket list stuff that made me long for a vacation of my own. But there were times when try as I might, I couldn’t overlook some of the overly saccharine moments, particularly the post script, which I mean, really? Guys, really? Did we need that? Come on!
Also Read: 10 Thoughts I Had While Watching Netflix’s ‘The Kissing Booth 2’. Mainly That I Hope ‘The Kissing Booth 3’ Avoids The Fatal Flaws Of Its Predecessor
The characters seem to be stuck in a behaviour loop, and development comes but rushed and late
My brain didn’t even wait for the film to get over. From the very first time that Lee got sad about Elle’s decision to go to college with his brother, I was low-key pissed. Dude needed some serious growing up to do, whether it was over letting go of his BFF or his childhood holiday home. For Noah, the character progression has been steadily visible through the first two films, from this hothead playboy to someone who had a serious girlfriend and a girl bro he could open up to without falling for her. This was cool, and I appreciate the makers for not tarnishing Elle-Lee and Noah-Chloé friendships. But then, enter Marco and all of that development goes to shit. Noah is back to his borderline sexist need to protect Elle from the libidinous intents of other men. And Elle is back to crying on the muscular shoulders of Marco instead of just talking about her issues with Noah and Lee. (I get why Noah is head over heels for Elle. They have history. But Marco’s relentless love for her flies way over my head!) Didn’t we do this in the previous film itself? How can you claim these boys are your best friend or boyfriend when you can’t have open conversations with either of them?
Elle’s dilemma when it comes to picking between her BFF and BF is relatable. What isn’t though is the fact that she got into two top tier schools just like that! She seems like a jack of all trades but master of none kinda student at school, and definitely more into extra-curricular. So it really bugged me to know that she got into not just UC Berkeley but also Harvard! And before you go all Elle from Legally Blonde on me with a “What? Like it’s hard?” I seriously think American teen films and series need to get their stories straight. Is it hard to get into an Ivy League college or not? And are extra-curriculars more important than academic goals or the other way? And what’s more important for Elle?
It really sucks when it strikes you that both Noah and Lee wanted Elle to choose their college without asking her what she wanted. And going by that theory, the only one who really cared for Elle and understood her was Mrs. Flynn, played by Molly Ringwald! At this point, when I realised that these boy issues were Elle’s entire personality, I wanted to scream, “Elle, please run from all these men, who seem to be stuck in the same immature loop of adolescent emotion. They’ll never let you figure out who you are!”
The only real character development comes for Elle when she finally vocalises her frustration and how it is stretching her thin, trying to do everything for everybody. In a nice scene with Molly Ringwald, Elle finally realises that she needs to do find what she wants instead of doing what everyone wants for her. I love this destination for Elle, but the journey did take forever to get her there, without some really unnecessary pitstops. But at least she got there. Even for Lee, while his behaviour initially annoyed me, I liked that his and Elle’s friendship got such a heartwarming closure, and Joel and Joey (even their names are like BFFs!) just touch my heart with the chemistry, which is easily the best thing about this film. I wish I had a friendship like that!
But what makes me utterly sad is the injustice metted out to my man Noah. I mean sure, he goes from being the hothead who in this weird, almost sexist way, want to ‘protect’ Elle and tell her who she should and shouldn’t be friends with, to this mature guy who lets go of the girl he loves because he wants her to make her decision irrespective of him and walks away from a provocation to fight. But it happens in such a haphazard way and takes too long.
Also Read: Shershaah Review: A Surprisingly Subdued Tribute To A War Hero And His Two Loves That Should’ve Been So Much More
One Last Kiss, Purely For Fan Service
Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 serves a singular purpose: to appease the fans and give them the closure that they want. But is it the one they deserve? I don’t think so, because this could’ve been so much better. I will give props where necessary, starting with Joey King who really tries to push Elle to her fullest potential but gets stuck because of the writing. Her chemistry with Joel Courtney is my favourite ship on this film. And kudos to whoever thought of the items on the summer bucket list. It is super fun, and begs some major questions about the family dynamics and Elle’s economic sitch here. Her dad does’t look like he can afford all the money his daughter spends. And I wonder how much she earns at her waitressing job. Because otherwise, is she just letting her BF and BFF pay for everything? The shit they do doesn’t seem cheap to me!
It’s kinda weird that every time Elle, Noah or Lee wanna throw a party, everyone just magically happens to be free and game for it. Then again, the cast looks like it had a blast while shooting these films, which looking nothing short of one big party in South Africa, which doubles up South California for the film. Though I will admit the green screen work is umm, questionable. But the Mario Kart race really looked crazy and so did the water park sequence! I would kill for that beach house, and the emotional sequence where Elle revisits her childhood memories when packing it up was kinda beautiful.
TKB 3 manages to insert major callbacks from the first two movies, whether it is in the form of dialogues, like when Elle says, “it is what it is, Noah.” Or when the titular Kissing Booth and the Dance Dance machine show up. Almost all of the side characters from the previous films make an appearance. And the visual language is pretty much the same too.
While I do think the post script (and the whole Lee and Rachel thing) was unnecessary, watching Joey King sport her OG short hair (from when they were filming) and the conversation between Elle and Noah, felt the most real and normal thing!
Elle says, “The Kissing Booth meant something to people….” And I think we had a second and third film for that very reason. My major issue with the franchise will always be that it did’t strive to rise above the tropes and clichés of its genre. But if you, like me, are a teen romance loyalist who needs these movies for the momentary escapism it gives and the way everything makes you laugh out, smile silly or hurl endless commentary at the screen when the heroine or hero are doing something stupid, then The Kissing Booth 3 does all that fan service.
Watch it for closure, for a reminder via Elle that when the choice between friendship and love gets tough, you gotta choose yourself, and for some vicarious living through the characters’ hot people summer. Or like me, just watch for Jacob Elordi, because he cute and fine.
The Kissing Booth 3 is currently streaming on Netflix.