Between angsty sighs, overacted stares and furrowed brows, the final installment of Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” saga saves its most welcoming message for the end: There will not be a sequel.
The trilogy’s premise comes from a Wattpad story written by then 15-year-old Beth Reekles, which follows goofy yet preppy high schooler Elle Evans (Joey King), her best friend Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) and his older brother, the rugged bad-boy Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi). Childhood best friends Elle and Lee abide by a strict set of rules they made when they were younger. While Rule 9 claims relatives are off-limits, sparks fly between Elle and Noah when they smooch at a school-sponsored kissing booth.
Elle spends most of the series’s first two films juggling the Flynn brothers, trying to deepen her romance with Noah and maintain her friendship with Lee. In “The Kissing Booth 2,” Elle must decide whether she wants to stick to her and Lee’s childhood plan to attend UC Berkeley together or if she should trek across the country to go to Harvard University with Noah.
“The Kissing Booth 3” picks up from its predecessor, soaking up the sunny Southern California seascape of Elle and Lee’s post-graduation summer. Elle still hasn’t picked a college, but the admissions officers’ patience is growing thin. Vince Marcello, writer-director of all of “The Kissing Booth” movies, writes Elle as the pearl of Southern California’s oyster. There’s something about Elle — something that excuses her selfishness, fulfills her wishes, forgives her mistakes and makes men adore her. For most characters, that catch-all “something” is charisma; given King’s leading performance, however, charm is quickly ruled out.
Frustration with Elle doesn’t wholly rest on King’s shoulders. “The Kissing Booth 3” practically flagellates its protagonist with conflicts and turmoil, loss and disappointment. Between Noah’s machismo and Lee’s bruised ego, Elle can’t catch a break. The film aspires to capture the bittersweet aftertaste of saying goodbye to what was once familiar. Yet, “The Kissing Booth 3” haphazardly litters the path to new beginnings with petty speed bumps and tired gimmicks — from Elle and Lee’s summer bucket list to Elle’s widower dad (Stephen Jennings) dating again to the reappearance of former love interest Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez).
The film stitches its many plots together with the stiffness of a corporate PowerPoint presentation. Behind the camera, various intercut scenes intended to be narrative parallels feel absent of intention, coming across as obtuse and heavy-handed. While it’s shorter than “The Kissing Booth 2,” this rigidity makes watching “The Kissing Booth 3” a feat of endurance — similar to a root canal.
It’s easy to poke fun at the cringy, cliched tropes rampant in all “The Kissing Booth” movies since the archetypal characters from Reekles’ source material are lifted from fiction, from TV, from movies: Lee is the giddy, fun-loving boy-next-door, while bad-boy Noah sports a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle. Dated tropes and cliches are understandable in a young, creative mind’s first try at fiction. Adults, however, should know better.
As if registering this dissonance, there’s an overdue volta in the last act of “The Kissing Booth 3,” but it’s too little, too late. The sudden character development may invigorate some viewers to shout, “About time!”, while others soberingly realize that this means there’s more of the movie.
Afflicted by the belief that viewers can’t get enough of this cornball schtick, Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” series is like a bloated exercise on maximalism, on the idea that more is always more: It’s a Wattpad fanfic brought to the streaming silver screen, a rom-com stretched into a trilogy, a romance branched into a love triangle and a family drama shoehorned into a summer wish-fulfillment film.
The final iteration of this franchise inherits the predecessors’ flaws as “The Kissing Booth 3” dry-heaves unsettling, unrealistic messages about platonic and romantic relationships. As the credits roll, kiss it goodbye and good riddance.