You can’t help you who love. Or so they say. But is that really true?
Take Elle and Lee, for instance. They’re best friends … thanks to their mothers, who were also the best of friends. On top of that, Elle and Lee were born on the same day. They love to hang out. They love to dance. They’re best friends forever. And they’ve created a list of rules to make sure that fact will never change.
Friendship, of course, is their top priority. But sometimes rules can be bent, can’t they? Especially if your lifetime crush is your best friend’s older brother, Noah.
But Noah’s off limits. At least until a kissing booth—one that’s disguised as a school fundraiser—changes all the rules.
Suddenly, Elle must decide what’s more important: friendship or love.
Elle and Lee share a sweetly close friendship. And the rule sheet they came up with when they were young has indeed helped their friendship to thrive over the years. For example, Rule 16 says that your best friend should be able to know what’s going on in your life. And both Elle and Lee are equally protective of one another and try to make each other happy. (Rule 18: “Always be happy for your bestie’s successes.”)
A handful of other guys also have protective attitudes toward Elle. That said, she gradually learns to stick up for herself and tries to get a handle on what’s most valuable in her life as well. Elle also tries to encourage Noah to be a better person. And she faithfully stays by her mother’s side when she’s in the hospital.
Lee and Noah’s mother emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. She tells Elle that arguments and disagreements are normal and must be resolved. Noah, for his part, apologizes to his brother and those he has hurt. He also mentions that he’s going to see multiple counselors. Someone chases off bullies for his friend.
Someone jokes about Miley Cyrus becoming a nun.
Despite a few positive moments, The Kissing Booth largely revolves around the theme of teens’ physical relationships with each other. At times, it feels as if Elle is practically looking for opportunities to shed her clothes.
At a high school party, for instance, she disrobes down to her bra and underwear. After her pants rip in one scene, she dons a very short skirt that reveals her underwear-clad backside. A guy grabs her there, and Noah crudely quips that she was “asking for it.” She also yells, “My boobs are fantastic!” in a family setting.
She’s shown on her bed wearing nothing but a towel. (At one point, it almost appears as if she’s unclothed.) Elle also struts around in a locker room filled with guys wearing just her bra and a skirt. Noah is also shown wearing next to nothing once, and draped in only a towel elsewhere. (His chest is visible.) In another scene, he appears to be completely naked, sitting on a chair, and the camera shows everything but his genital region.
And we’re not done yet. One morning, Elle wakes up in Noah’s bed and thinks they slept together. (He informs her that he slept elsewhere.) That scene shows her in his shirt and her underwear. Later, while rolling around on the ground together, she touches his (covered) crotch, which she says was an “accidental groping.”
When Elle and Noah finally begin a relationship, they kiss (thanks to the kissing booth) and make out a lot. They also take off each other’s shirts and then spend the night together. Elle talks about having had sex with him. They wake up outside covered in blankets. Elle is shown buying condoms. We see her on top of Noah, and it looks as though they’re having sex. (There are sounds and movements.) Elle steals a security tape that has captured video images of her and Noah (presumably) having sex at school. Though Elle asks herself a lot of questions about her relationship with Noah, in the end she suggests that she’s OK with being just “another one of his conquests.” Elle casually lies to Lee and tells him she was watching porn, and he asks to watch with her.
Girls wear bikinis and other revealing outfits, and guys are seen shirtless and in their boxers. The camera zooms in on a guy’s rear end. Lee jokingly says, “Any excuse to cross-dress, and I’m in.” And in one scene, Lee does wear a dress. Two guys have an obvious attraction to each other and dance together. Close-ups show guys and girls kissing (including shots that show tongues entangled) at the kissing booth. A guy tells a girl not to grind on her love interest’s genitals.
A girl talks about getting her first bra and her first period. A guy is called a “perv,” and he texts something inappropriate (but we don’t see what it is). A male athlete’s “sports cup” is mentioned. A girl says that kissing gives you cold sores. Other conversations include references to the male and female anatomy. A girl is called a “slut” and a “ho.”
Noah gets into multiple fist fights. We see him punch a guy in the face several times. Noah is also extremely controlling and aggressive with Elle; at one point he shouts at her and slams his fists in frustration. Lee accuses Noah of hitting Elle (though he doesn’t actually do so). Someone dies from cancer. A young boy breaks his leg as a child. Someone falls out of a window.
The f-word is used three times, and the s-word more than 10 times. God’s name is misused about half a dozen times. Jesus’ name is misused once. Other profanities include multiple uses of “a–,” “d–k,” “d–mit,” “d–n,” “h—,” “b–ch” and “douche.” Someone exclaims, “Holy crap!”
High school students attend numerous house and beach parties and drink hard liquor, beer (once doing keg stands) and shots. No one in the film seems to care that there is a ton of underage drinking going on. Elle gets very drunk at a party. Someone thinks taking an antacid will help a hangover.
The parents in the film seem to be virtually absent and completely oblivious to their teens’ reckless choices. (Elle hides under Noah’s bed at one point after sneaking into his room.) Parents’ voices and opinions don’t matter at all, and they’re never around to guide their children or shape their values.
At one point, Elle’s dad makes it clear that he doesn’t approve of Noah but tells the young man that it is Elle’s choice. It’s good that he cares about his daughter’s feelings (in this one instance, at least), but the rest of the movie makes it seem as if he couldn’t care less and has absolutely no power to speak into Elle’s life or to establish boundaries for her.
There’s a lot of lying going on throughout most of the film, especially by Elle. (That said, she eventually confesses some things to her father.) And Elle will do anything to fit in.
Disturbingly, Noah “doesn’t allow” other guys to be anywhere near Elle, even though they’re not even dating. His controlling behavior is normalized throughout the entire film.
Girls are rude to one another. Various characters use others for personal gain. Guys and girls sneak around together. A boy sneezes, and mucus flies into a girl’s face. Someone sets off a stink bomb. A boy gets multiple wedgies and is hit in the face with a soccer ball.
Let’s cut to the chase: The Kissing Booth is a disaster on every level. Not only is it a terrible movie artistically (currently at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes), it sets an equally terrible example for teens about what constitutes normal adolescent behavior.
I’ve seen a lot of movies. But watching this as an adult made me feel very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to see these teenagers taking off their clothes and having sex. I didn’t want to see Elle buying condoms. I didn’t want to see them getting very drunk as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I didn’t want to see Elle’s pseudo-boyfriend treat her like a piece of property. I didn’t want to hear them continually use harsh profanity.
Watching this movie also raised a lot of questions for me. Where are the parents throughout this entire film? Why do they seem to have no clue about what’s going on? Why is Elle always taking her clothes off whenever she has the chance? Why is a guy’s sexual harassment dismissed by school officials with a casual detention? And why does no one (other than Lee) have a problem with how controlling and aggressive Noah is?
Like I said: The Kissing Booth is a disaster—especially for the target audience Netflix has aimed this TV-14 at. Suffice it to say it’s not appropriate for 14-year-olds … or, really, anyone else, for that matter.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).