Shelly and Lee were born in the same hospital at the same time, affluent, dance-crazy California cuties who share so much.
No, not that. Shelly who prefers “Elle” (Joey King) lusts for Lee’s hunky, short-tempered jock older brother, Noah (Jacob Elordi). Noah’s just a little tactless.
“When did you get the boobs?”
“The Kissing Booth” is a flirty, semi-edgy teen rom-com built around that “moment when you suddenly go from invisible, to EVERYbody staring at you.” That “lady shape” thing changed last summer, and showing up for school in a skirt you’ve outgrown creates a stir.
“Dude touched my lady bump!”
The perky, pouty King, of “Independence Day 2” and “Wish I was Here,” clicks with Joel Courtney of “F*#% the Prom” as Lee and Elordi (of the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean”).
But “The Kissing Booth,” based on a 15 year-old’s self-published online then New York published YA book, gives us 94 minutes of wondering which “classic” teen comedy they’ll steal from next, who she’ll end up with and how far things will…progress.
The Mean Girls at LA Country Day are stiletto wearing vixens called the OMG Girls — Olivia, Mia and Gwyneth.
“Oh my God, I would TOTALLY have babies with Noah…”
To get the tone of the picture, let’s zero in on Mia (Jessica Sutton), whom Lee openly crushes on. Here’s how he and Elle come up with the idea for a kissing booth at the school club fundraiser.
“The ONLY way you’d get to make out with her is if you PAID for it.”
Yeah, that’s a prostitution joke. But hey, kids these days…
“Oh my God, I think I TOUCHED it.”
Elle is like “the new girl” at school — thanks to her physical development. Noah is on the case, threatening every hunk (Joshua Daniel Eady) who approaches her.
“No boobs are worth a broken nose!”
OK. Maybe not. Though Elle makes her case for the defense. Meanwhile, she’s got to find volunteer “A list” hotties of both sexes to “work” the booth.
As “The Kissing Booth” is a “dead mom” rom-com, Molly Ringwald comes in as the “surrogate mom” advising Elle/Shelly on all matters of the heart and femininity. She gets two scenes, only one that counts. Very John Hughes in the ’80s attitude towards adults.
That’s OK. What surrounds those scenes already steals so much from “The Breakfast Club” and assorted Ringwald-era comedies, including covers of the same iconic songs heard of the soundtracks of those films, that this stumbling homage doesn’t need more.
The formula is set, with all signs leading to “prom.” The high school “types” are amusingly recognizable, the banter is more quick than sharp — but quick compensates for sharp, much of the time.
It’s a world of no part-time jobs, expensive clothes, boozy teen costume parties and teen Lee getting a 1960s vintage Mustang to celebrate getting his driver’s license, Harvard-bound Noah riding a Shadow motorcycle, multi-story hillside houses with “Architectural Digest” pools you can dive into from the third floor.
Nice. Rich. But nice.
Young Ms. King looks her age (still a teen, and quite short) and more like a real high school girl than than the 20something models/actors who surround her. She’s still got a girl-next-door image when the film begins, and works Christina Ricci-hard at shedding that image before the closing credits.
Not sure playing a girl with exhibitionist tendencies and morning-after waking up in a strange bed is Every Child Actor Parent’s dream, sexist objectification and all that.
“Dress is gone, panties still on? I can work with that.”
Elle keeps stumbling into it, showing us what she’s got and reveling in the attention from the boys and the mean girls. But she still needs booth babes to do the kissing.
“Tickets and epic smooches are non-refundable!”
The kissing montage? It’s more PG-15 than “TV-14.” But there’s a cheerful wholesomeness to the whole “Get a room” approach to blindfolded hotties making out with classmates they can’t identify. A hint of same sex attraction may be only that — a hint. But it points to a more sexual second and third act.
The movie references the web publication turned YA book it is based on with Elle’s omnipresent voice-over narration and random inclusions of “Rules,” as in “Rule number 18, always be happy for your bestie’s success.” No rubbing naughty bits with your bestie’s brother is in there somewhere. Any friendship issues can be worked out with ice cream and an arcade Dance Dance Revolution-clone dance-off is another rule.
The big mack-off is an unintentionally amusing contortion owing to Ms. King’s aforementioned height shortage. Coming from the director of “Zombie Prom,” one would expect no less.
What follows is considerably less PG. And on the down low. The language, the tone, it all becomes somewhat less cute and more adult and testy and soapy.
If you’re looking for a cute/sweet teen comedy that isn’t a grow-up-too-fast exposure for your tweens, “Kissing Booth” isn’t it. But the arc of the story packs a lot of lust and relationship lessons that anybody older than 15 can relate to, and learn from.
It’s just that little about “The Kissing Booth” suggests that’s the audience it’s going for. And it’s way too unsophisticated, ham-fisted, derivative and random for anybody older than 14 to sit through.
MPAA Rating: TV-14, teen-drinking, violence, sexuality, profanity.
Cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Molly Ringwald
Credits: Written and directed by Vincent Marcello, based on the Beth Reekles book. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34