Your Guide to The Kissing Booth, the New Netflix Movie All the Teens Are Wild For

The Kissing Booth. Photo: Marcos Cruz/Netflix

Teens everywhere can’t stop talking about The Kissing Booth, the new Netflix movie about a teenage girl, her best guy friend, and the guy friend’s hot older brother. An adaptation of a popular story that first appeared on Wattpad — written when author Beth Reekles was only 15 — The Kissing Booth is the rare Netflix Original to make any sort of splash at all, making social-media stars out of its main duo (both of whom have received “everything you need to know” posts on Seventeen.com) and spurring what are sure to be countless kissing booths at high-school fundraisers nationwide next fall. As part of our mandate to occasionally explore just what the kids are up to these days, here is an attempt to answer every question you may have about The Kissing Booth.

So, uh, what is a kissing booth?
I’m glad you asked! For some reason, everyone else on the Vulture staff was cool and mature enough to know exactly what a kissing booth was, while I, dear reader, was in the dark. Turns out, a kissing booth is a “common” charity event in which an objectively attractive person sits in a booth, and other people pay to kiss them. Somehow I was able to go 31 years of my life without encountering one, and my only conclusion is that I was for some reason not invited to all the kissing booths that simply must have been sprouting up around the Pennsylvanian countryside in the early-to-mid-2000s. Perhaps this was because I was so unsexy no one wanted to kiss me, even for charity … or perhaps it was because I was so sexy the organizers feared all the attendees would ignore the kissing booth and rush to kiss me instead, thus putting the financial health of the fundraiser in jeopardy. Who’s to say?

What does all this have to do with the movie?
Everything! Like the iceberg in Titanic, the kissing booth in The Kissing Booth radically overturns the movie’s status quo. The movie follows two lifelong best friends, Elle (Joey King) and Lee (Joel Courtney), who are entering their junior year of high school. They like playing DDR together, and they love following a list of friendship rules they made up as children, one of which crucially forbids the besties from dating each other’s relatives. This becomes an issue when Elle realizes she has a crush on Lee’s hunky older brother Noah (Jacob Elordi), and once she and Noah smooch onstage at the titular booth, she realizes that he has feelings for her, too. Except they can’t go public with their new relationship, because it would hurt his brother’s feelings!

Oh, so it’s a love triangle?
Oddly enough, no. At the same kissing booth, Lee gets a love interest, whose sole defining feature is that she is very nice. So his whole objection to Elle and Noah being together is just that he’s being an insecure, possessive dick! As he puts it after finding out they kissed for charity, “Just don’t end up grinding coochies with my brother, or I’ll literally never talk to you again.”

Buddy, you don’t know the half of it. This movie has a ton of weird shit. First off, there’s an odd “Tales of Ribaldry” thing going on where the plot keeps conniving ways for our heroine to accidentally expose her underwear. There’s a gay-romance subplot where neither of the two men ever so much as speak a line. (Call my by your name … if we ever exchange them.) There’s not one but two separate scenes ripped off wholesale from 10 Things I Hate About You. And, as you may have been able to tell from the “grinding coochies” line, there are a bunch of sudden tonal shifts where this light, silly movie gets incredibly heavy for a second, and then switches right back.

So it’s not good?
Absolutely not. The Kissing Booth has a whopping 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it “ham-fisted,” “sexist,” and “not a good movie.” I watched it Tuesday morning, and I can confirm that all of those things are true.

If it’s bad, are you sure people actually like it?
Just how popular it is is hard to say, since Netflix keeps its viewing data private. But there are indications that Kissing Booth fandom is not just a media invention. A silly promo video with the cast has 2.6 million views in its first week. King also recently hit 3 million Instagram followers, which is a huge deal on the teen internet. As for the movie itself, Google Trends has generally been a handy way to ballpark the relative popularity of Netflix’s original movies, and by this standard, The Kissing Booth is blowing most of its home-screen competition out of the water.

Photo: Google Trends

(I didn’t include Bright because it had so much search volume it was messing up the scale of the graph. Suffice it to say that while The Kissing Booth is very popular, it is not as popular as Bright — though that may change once Chance the Rapper gets around to publishing his review.)

Furthermore, a quick scan of Twitter produces plenty of teens publicly espousing their love for this movie. Now, there is a possibility that this all a Tide-Pod–style setup to troll adults like me, but at the moment we’ll have to take these kids at their word that they really do legitimately enjoy The Kissing Booth.

So, why do they?
Well, that’s the million-view question. I have a few theories. First, you can’t discount the benefit of it being written by an actual teen; there’s a guilelessness to the story that couldn’t come from an adult hand. (The movie is remarkable unsqueamish about minors having sex, which I imagine an adult author might have either been pervy or awkward about.) And even though the movie’s pretty bad, it’s bad in a comforting way. Most of the plot points and supporting characters are blatant rip-offs of earlier teen films, which gives the film a similar quality to those pop songs that build their hooks by sampling previous hits. (The “numbered friendship rules” thing plays like a sunnier version of the 13 Reasons Why gag, and some fans are even making their own homemade lists.) And the movie’s set in an affluent corner of Los Angeles, so there’s plenty of Nancy Meyers–in–high school lifestyle porn to go around. Spoiler alert: Our heroine loses her virginity underneath the Hollywood sign!

But if I had to pinpoint one ultimate reason, it’s that the guy is hot.

It’s a teen movie, of course the guy is hot.
True. But the guy is really hot. Jacob Elordi is an Australian model, and you can, uh, tell. The dude is built like a tree that suddenly grew muscles and veins in all the right places. His hair flops around just so, and his smile is just the right degree off-center. And his character has that weird Christian Grey thing where he’s incredibly controlling and aggressive, but it’s only because he loves Elle so much that he feels the need to save her from everything bad in the world. (He also has that other weird Christian Grey thing where he talks in this weird half-whisper all the time, the better to disguise the fact that the guy playing him is not American.) And unlike a certain pair of cinematic co-stars, Elordi and King actually like each other. Like, like-like. They’re dating, is what I’m trying to say.

Exactly. And they post a lot of pictures of themselves together on social media, which I’m sure is another solid explanation for the movie’s popularity. Everybody loves a co-stars-in-love story!

One last question: Is there going to be a sequel?
It looks like, possibly! As they say, it’s never too late to go back to the booth.

Your Guide to the Netflix Sensation The Kissing Booth