In a recent development, I am officially the world’s biggest Aquamarine fan. This is because I am the only person with the wherewithal to place Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum’s teen summer film masterpiece on my TSDPT list. Aquamarine is the standard by which I judge both teen films and summer films, which are both different genres, and yet, routinely end-up combined together.
I thought about Aquamarine a lot during Kissing Booth 3, a film which is both the third Kissing Booth movie, but also, is a teen summer comedy for some reason. What the former seems to understand that the latter does not, is that teen films have real stakes by simply leaning into the tangibility of the emotions that come with situations. It’s a big deal to have your best friends move away. To lose that childhood sense innocence that you’ve been carrying for the last however many years. That is probably more than enough to sustain a compelling cinematic drama.
Unfortunately, for Vince Marcello and the rest of the crew that secretly shot Kissing Booths 2 and 3 back-to-back, one measly little childhood friendship coming apart at the seams isn’t enough to sustain a film that probably has designs on being the Gravity’s Rainbow of films about Kissing Booths. Instead, we need to combine that falling apart childhood friendship to an incomprehensible number of other threads, because Elle Evans (Joey King) is back, baby! When we last left Elle, she was in the midst of choosing which college she wanted to go to. Either UC Berkeley with best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), or Harvard with boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi).
If you’re under the impression that this would be the crux of the conflict for the 3rd film, then you, like I, are in for a rude awakening. As previously mentioned, Marcello shot the last two Kissing Booths back-to-back. Yet, I think this choice did them no favours, because Elle chooses “Harvard with Noah,” roughly 15 minutes into this film. In hindsight, that should’ve been the cliffhanger of the second film so that this one could maintain more focus. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. And from Elle’s fateful decision, the film jumps into a number of small, progressively more aggravating conflicts, some of which are quite literally never resolved and are randomly dropped partway through the film.
For example, Elle finds herself staying for the summer with Noah, Lee and Lee’s girlfriend Rachel (Meganne Young) in a gorgeous beach house that’s owned by Lee and Noah’s Mom; she’s determined to sell the place. This prompts a summer long pout on the part of Lee who actively works against efforts to clean up the place. The pout finds itself on a temporary time out so that Lee and Elle can complete a summer bucket list of events that includes things like, turning an afternoon of go-cart racing into real-life Mario Kart, replete with costumes and powerups that they throw at each other. I swear, these kids are going to kill each other.
More serious than fake Mario Kart is the fact that Noah and Elle seem to have hit a rough patch in their relationship. While the theme of the second Kissing Booth film was to discuss the ways in which individuals struggles to maintain relationships across distance, Kissing Booth 3 wants to tackle the ways in which, sometimes, individuals need to find themselves before they can be the partners that they need to be. For a brief moment, the film is able to somewhat mature about its direction, while more importantly leaving room an Eat, Pray, Kissing Booth reboot in the future.
Unfortunately, this seriousness is only temporary. The best TV writing that has ever been done comes at the hand Emily van der Werff, whose meditations on Glee have shaped a large percentage of my understandings of television. In diagnosing where Glee fell apart, van der Werff argues that the real problem with Glee was its inability to ever force its characters into a situation where they might be sad and fail to achieve their dreams. All hardships were temporary, the pain a brief footnote on the path to the top.
For some reason, The Kissing Booth 3 seems to have gone to the Glee school of narrative design. Without spoiling where, ultimately, the film winds up getting to, the ending of this version is somehow more infuriating than the previous one, which to remind you, was a pointless cliff-hanger. Truly, I find myself befuddled at how the best of these films is a second one that, quite literally, achieves nothing.
Maybe, that’s the best encapsulations of the failures of The Kissing Booth trilogy. For all of its designs upon tackling some real, tangible, teenaged emotions, there are still faux-Mario Kart races to be run, and a weird friendship constitution to live by (seriously! who has a constitution for their friendship!). When Beth Reekles wrote the first Wattpad Kissing Booth novel almost a full decade ago, I doubt that they had much of a journey in mind for their characters. More important was always the pratfalls, friendship rules, and the salacious possibility of a kissing booth at your school’s carnival. Ultimately, all the adult seeming threads in the world can’t disguise that.
- Rated: TV-14
- Genre: Drama, Romance
- Release Date: 8/11/2021
- Directed by: Vince Marcello
- Starring: Carson White, Hilton Pelser, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Joey King, Joshua Daniel Eady, Stephen Jennings
- Produced by: Andrew Cole-Bulgin, Ed Glauser, Michele Weisler, Vince Marcello
- Written by: Beth Reekles, Vince Marcello
- Studio: Netflix