I love romcoms, and I’m guilty of watching The Kissing Booth as soon as it came out. But what I saw was a giant mesh of subplots from other successful rom-coms, blended out in an incoherent, cliched mess. The “bad boy” figure, the love triangles, the wannabe Mean Girls inspired girls group- you name it, it is all there, but what it lacks is all the factors that made the original movies good. The film became an instant success on Netflix, but what is concerning is how impressionable it is for young girls who begin to romanticize this movie’s problematic aspects.
The movie is INCREDIBLY toxic, sexist, and misogynist in several places. The first is the continuous objectification of women, especially the lead character, Elle. On the first day back at school, Elle is forced to wear a skirt she’s outgrown (because all her other pants suddenly disappeared, right?) and is faced with unwanted catcalls as soon as she steps on school grounds. One guy, Tuppen, even dares to slap her on the butt. Rather than listening to her that she can handle the situation herself, saving-the-damsel-in-distress complexed Lee and Noah, the movie's other leads, rush to protect Elle.
I wish the problems ended there. After supposedly “protecting” Elle and thoroughly brushing off the idea that she can deal with difficulties herself, Noah tells Elle that by wearing a skirt like that, “she was asking for it.” This problematic, cliched dialogue is the slogan for rape culture and puts the blame on the female for how she dresses.
Moreover, the whole assault scene is almost a joke as when the incident is reported to the principal, Elle ends up with the same punishment (detention) for breaking the dress code as the guy who assaulted her. It portrays Elle to be not too affected by it either, making jokes about it after the incident and then agreeing to go out with the same guy who assaulted her. Romanticizing harassment much?
Noah is the epitome of the over-used bad boy cliché that everyone loves to see. Because wearing a leather jacket, driving a motorcycle, and having anger issues is not only rebellious but constitutes having a well-rounded character, right? Though it is portrayed to be the cutesy beginnings of a relationship, he becomes insanely protective of Elle, threatening guys not to go out with her and dismissing her demands by stating, “you know, you’re cute when you’re bossy.” When she states that his controlling days are over, Noah replies by saying that “We’ll see about that.” These scenes of Noah repeatedly dismissing Elle are MAJOR red flags.
Elle is also not a strong female character. She rarely stands up for herself and is seldom seen to be motivated or inspired by anything. Her only goal throughout the movie seems to be to get together with her brother’s best friend, and when she does, her life becomes obsessed with Noah and his problems. Other things, such as her family and school life, become overshadowed, barely seen in the movie’s 110 minutes. From beginning to end, there is no distinct character development seen in Elle’s personality.
This is not to say that other classic rom-com’s like 10 Things I Hate About You did not have glaring faults as well. However, produced in an age where movements such as the #MeToo campaign and feminist activism are on the rise, this movie seems to turn a blind eye to all of them, sticking to backward, outdated portrayals. With young girls obsessed with such movies, it would be better if Netflix produced movies with stronger female characters and without trivializing aspects such as assault and toxic masculinity under the umbrella of being "romantic" or "cute" or every girls’ dream.