As ‘The Godfather: Part II’ and ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ each prove, it is rare but not impossible for a sequel to rise above a popular predecessor.
‘The Kissing Booth 2’, released July 24 on Netflix, is the latest film to join this elite class — if only because its bar to entry hovers right above the ground.
For those who would rather not engage with the original, a quick recap: ‘The Kissing Booth’ follows Elle Evans (Joey King), a Los Angeles teenager who risks her friendship with classmate Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) by falling for his rebellious older brother, Noah (Jacob Elordi).
Elle and Lee abide by a set of rules they created as children, one of which is to never date the other’s relatives. They fall out when Lee discovers the illicit romance, leading Noah and Elle to briefly break up. Eventually, everyone makes peace.
The sequel picks up with Elle and Lee’s senior year, and Noah’s freshman year of college. Elle once again struggles to reconcile her relationships with each Flynn brother: Does she chase her and Lee’s shared dream of attending the University of California at Berkeley, or does she apply to Harvard University to be with Noah?
Elle’s jealousy and constant recollection of Noah’s playboy past puts strain on their long-distance relationship. Enter Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez), her hot dance competition partner.
While the kissing booth again serves as a tangential plot device — in both films, Elle and Lee run one for a school fundraiser — noticeable changes suggest co-writers Jay Arnold and Vince Marcello (who also directed) responded to criticism of the 2018 film. Noah’s rage and borderline abusive tendencies have dissipated, replaced with homesickness and, from what he tells Elle, unflinching loyalty. Misogynist currents are scrapped in favor of a story line empowering Lee’s girlfriend, Rachel (Meganne Young).
If ‘The Kissing Booth 2’ is watchable, viewers have Elle to thank; King remains the strongest component of a now-franchise that, quite frankly, might be beneath her. The actress, who earned an Emmy nomination last year for playing Gypsy Rose Blanchard in the Hulu miniseries ‘The Act’, makes the most of a thinly written quirky girl by contributing a vivaciousness that (at least partly) explains why every guy in school falls in love with Elle. Courtney and Elordi don’t have as much to do, but the latter’s turn on the critically acclaimed HBO series “Euphoria” gives his return shades of tragedy as well.
The film clocks in at 132 minutes, which is unnecessary — especially given the secondhand embarrassment viewers must endure — but understandable for Netflix. The distributor doesn’t play by the rules; it will likely deem ‘The Kissing Booth 2’ a hit among its pantheon of rom-coms, backing the claim with metrics that count two minutes of streaming as a view. (To be fair, the first film, though critically panned, probably did perform well, if the young actors’ social media followings are any indication.)
And so, we brace for more. Netflix has yet to greenlight another ‘Kissing Booth’, but the sequel’s ending and its near-guaranteed success suggest it is poised for a follow-up. One can only hope that, given the established pattern, it fares better than ‘The Godfather: Part III’.
‘The Kissing Booth 2’ is out now on Netflix