Which is Better, The Kissing Booth or to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before?

Summer is the perfect time to kick up your feet, pop some popcorn in the microwave, and enjoy a cozy movie night with some friends. For me, I always look forward to summer, as my sister and I have free time to watch, and usually poke fun at, whichever cheesy, romantic comedy blockbusters Netflix banged out for the start of everyone’s vacation.

The first one that popped up on my radar was The Kissing Booth. I wandered into my sister’s room, looking for entertainment/attention as I was recently home from university, and found her absentmindedly watching it as she filled in homework questions. It didn’t take long for me to convince her to ditch the assignment and commit to a movie-watching-sister-reunion for the night.

A few months later, she approached me claiming there was a new teenage romance movie on Netflix that the internet was not only “blowing up over,” but that many claimed was superior to The Kissing Booth in every way, shape, and form. So that night the two of us curled up on the couch to watch To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

My sister and I, while not film critics or educated in the nuances and intricacies of film-making, are usually more inclined to cringe and laugh at the content of these sappy, teenage romances than we are to be emotionally triggered by whatever relationship is developing. And a healthy amount of cringing did occur as we sat through both of these films, for reasons I will gladly point out in a moment. After reflecting back on both movies and making a laundry list of comparisons in my mind, I came to the conclusion that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was objectively better than The Kissing Booth. Here’s why…

Let’s tackle The Kissing Booth first. It’s the usual teenage romance where a girl falls in love with a “bad boy” sporting some form of typical male angst. In this case our love interest, Noah Flynn, cannot help but succumb to his raging testosterone and pick fights with any willing target. To Noah’s unexpected surprise, lo and behold, he falls in love with the one girl who isn’t following him around like a lovesick puppy. Our protagonist, Elle, is sassy, sporty, doesn’t tolerate being bossed around, and to spice things up, is also harboring a secret crush for Noah Flynn. But to act on these feelings would be the ultimate betrayal because she’s best friends with Noah’s younger brother Lee. Add in three clichy popular girls, a romantic make-out scene in the rain and sixteen-year-olds doing a keg-stand on the beach (where are the police?) and the scene is set. Original right?

Digging deeper, the movie, as a good friend of mine pointed out, has a tendency to sexualize the protagonist. For some unknown reason, we are repeatedly subjected to see our young heroine missing various pieces of clothing. Whether she’s laying on her bed in just underwear and a t-shirt, squeezing into a plaid mini skirt (because all two pairs of her pants are at the dry cleaners), stripping on a pool table, or skipping about the boy’s locker room in a bra and athletic shorts in what was probably the most unbearable and cringy scene of the movie, the creators appeared to believe that an absence of clothing added character. And while I’m not the voice for teenage girls across the globe, I also can’t vouch that a juvenile desire to impress a boy by running around his peers shirtless is an accurate portrayal of the teenage mindset.

Moving on to the topic of sex, which does have a blatant presence in this movie, things speed along very quickly for our two protagonists in terms of a physical relationship. Staying true to the stereotypical teenage romance movie, Elle has zero sexual experience (she’s never even kissed a boy) while dear Noah has purportedly made a successful, sexual conquest of the high school both of them attend. When the two break past the barrier of denying their feelings and begin to explore this mutual attraction, Elle experiences her first kiss one night, and then loses her virginity not 24 hours later. Now I’m not advocating for one specific, sexual timeline over another. Every girl has the right to decide if and when she wants to have sex. But realistically, a person with limited experience (in Elle’s case no experience whatsoever) chooses to break other physical barriers before knocking on sex’s door. Nevertheless, the movie is under two hours, and it seems sex was not meant to be the climax of the film but rather a supporting event.

To give some credit to the movie, there are positive elements worth noting. It’s high-energy and the plot moves along fairly quickly. Her friendship with Lee should provoke a smile or two. And it doesn’t conclude in a particularly sappy manner. The movie tackles the emotions of a first love and how two people, confronted with the inevitability of change, will always cherish each other through the small yet significant bond of that love. Plus, Elle gets a shiny motorcycle out of the deal.

Let’s move forward with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. We’re thrown into the life of shy but imaginative Lara Jean, who channels every emotion she’s ever felt for a boy into vivid and passionate letters, which are then stowed away in her closet, the feelings considered dealt with. When Lara Jean’s nosey but well-meaning little sister mails the letters in a match-making ploy, Lara Jean teams up with Peter Kavinsky, a love letter recipient and the school’s resident cute boy, to fool the school into thinking they’re dating. The objective? Help Peter win back his tasteless ex-girlfriend, Jen (also the movie’s villain), and prove to Josh that Lara Jean has no romantic feelings for him whatsoever. Who’s Josh you ask? He’s another letter recipient and also the ex-boyfriend (recently broken up) of Lara Jean’s older sister. Scandalous right?

The first time I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I have to say, I was less than impressed. However, feeling as if I was missing something that others saw, I decided to give it a second chance. Admittedly, the movie was much more enjoyable the second time. This tactic didn’t work with The Kissing Booth, which remained the same on my second go-around.

Beginning with the bad, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before lacked the energy and general aura of good-feeling that a summer, teenage romance movie needs in order to make an impact. In an attempt to showcase the depth and realness of their seemingly fake relationship, Lara Jean and Peter engage in multiple, long conversations about heavy topics neither of them previously had the heart to share. And while the intimacy and comfort these protagonists share with each other is pleasant to watch, it’s also somewhat emotionally draining. The solution should be to balance these moments out with a fun, carefree scene. But the energy never picks up. Events that should add some vigor, such as the party scene, or interactions that should be emotionally charged, such as Lara Jean and Jen’s face-off, possess a stagnancy that make the movie feel a little low energy. Part of the problem is a distinct lack of background music. Silence is an accidental but constant presence throughout this film. That is, until you’re slapped in the face with Lauv’s “I Like Me Better” on the picturesque drive to the ski resort.

I cannot, however, level the same quantity of complaints against To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that I did against The Kissing Booth. There were many characteristics of the movie that I really liked. For instance, Peter Kavinsky wasn’t an asshole with a teen angst complex that only Lara Jean could change in him. He was just a good guy who developed a crush on Lara Jean through a shared sense of genuineness. Lara Jean possessed a subtle bravery and a wicked fashion sense that made her undeniably likable. Put these two protagonists together, and you get a rawness and realness to the movie that made it much more relatable than The Kissing Booth.

Lara Jean’s family was also well developed and the emphasis on their closeness and family unity was quite endearing. Kitty, I believe, contributed the most energy and light-heartedness to the movie with her sassy banter and brute honesty, while the wisdom and guidance of the older sister, Margot, shows that in times of hardship, your siblings always have your back. We also get to witness a dynamic moment of parental support when Lara Jean and her father take a trip to their favorite diner. Her dad displays a rare empathy and sensitivity that usually isn’t invested into parents plopped into teenage romance movies. Audiences are thus moved when they see a father who not only recognizes that his daughter needs some support, but also has the emotional intelligence to successfully reach out and connect with her.

I have now reached the end of my nit-picky list of observations concerning both of these movies. At the end of the day, both are supposed to be fun, light-hearted films that allow you to escape for a couple hours in order to watch young love unfold. And while it may appear that I’ve leveled a hefty quantity of complaints against these films, I’m guilty of flopping onto the couch and laughing and cringing through both with my sister by my side.

So, feel like you need a night of carefree, teenage drama? Cue up Netflix and take your pick. You might agree with me or decide I’m wildly out of line. Regardless, you will take your mind off your troubles, and that’s where fun summer movies will always pull through.

 

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