Cliché or Replay?
You’ve probably heard or seen around the internet the names of Flynn, Peter Kavinsky, or Noah Centineo this summer, and if you haven’t, you clearly didn’t spend much time online over your break. (Good for you.) Netflix released three romantic comedies to its audience of over 100 million subscribers, the first arriving in May and the latest just a few weeks ago. Filled with crushes, heartbreak, drama, and a healthy dash of aww-inducing moments, these new rom-coms made us squeal with excitement and realize how drastically this genre has changed over the years—or not, in some cases. A word of caution before reading: some spoilers lie ahead.
THE KISSING BOOTH
Overdone, cheesy, predictable and surprisingly sexist, The Kissing Booth, an overdone movie hidden behind a creative name, really isn’t worth the watch. Released on May 11, Netflix’s teen-targeted rom-com drew both love and hate from viewers.
As someone who loves a good rom-com but knows that they usually aren’t that spectacular, I wasn’t expecting much—just a story based off of the usual stereotype of a unnoticed girl pining for the guy who she can’t have either because he doesn’t notice her, or because she isn’t allowed to date him. I was pretty much right.
While I expected the movie to be similar to other teen fiction books I’ve indulged in the past, I didn’t know how overdone the film would be until I heard it was based off a book originally published on Wattpad, the popular web platform for reading and self-publishing stories. Most books on the site are either teen romance novels or fanfiction. Originally posted to the website in 2011, by 2012 it had amassed over 19 million reads and 40 thousand votes on Wattpad.
So what’s the premise? Elle Evans (Joey King) has been best friends with Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) since birth. Their friendship has endured because of an agreed-upon set of ironclad rules: like not dating Lee’s handsome older brother Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi), a bad boy who wears a leather jacket everywhere in Los Angeles, rides a motorcycle, and gets into fights with other students
When the best friends host a kissing booth at a fair fundraiser, the booth brings Elle and Noah together, allowing for a slew of problems to proceed. The standard rom-com storyboard of the best friend getting in the way of romance has been done so many times before, and here, the story never transcends its predictable themes. The girl gets the boy either through a jealous encounter or a broken friendship, but either way rules (in this case, Elle and Lee’s) are usually broken. There is no depth, no character growth, and side characters don’t seem to be shown much—or contribute anything at all.
Admittedly, I enjoyed it at first. I found the kissing booth to be a slightly creative (although how the physical booth ever got past school administration approval confuses me) addition to the story. What I disliked was the blatant sexism.
When Elle gets ready for the first day of junior year and rips her pants, the skirt she’s outgrown gets her catcalled and ogled by seemingly every guy at the school, leading to a fight over her honor, and a trip to the principal’s office, where both her best friend and the principal tell her she was asking for it. In the current climate we live in today, these types of movie scenes should be past us.
In the long run, a movie should have memorable characters. Elle Evans, while a acceptable character, isn’t great, just generic, leaving me trying to recollect any memorable moments, less than a month after watching the film.
TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE
Cliché, but produced well, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (based off the popular YA novel of the same name by Jenny Han) brought the audience a touching, creative, heartwarming story leaving many on the internet wanting a Peter Kavinsky of their very own. I was excited for this movie to come out as soon as the trailer was posted in July. The story felt new and innovative, as it centers around secret love letters being unexpectedly mailed and a resulting fake relationship. The characters were diverse, adult topics were handled with maturity, the LGBT character wasn’t played as a stereotype, and almost all the main characters have more depth and story to them beyond a name and face.
The movie got heaps of praise when it arrived in early August for its diverse cast, headlined by Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor playing half-Korean half-Caucasian lead Lara Jean Song Covey. If it weren’t for Jenny Han’s persistence, this movie be very different from her book. Han recalled the struggle to find a production company that would keep the main character Asian in a recent interview with People magazine. “It was a difficult position,” Han explained. “You have to say no again and again.”
In the past decade or so, Hollywood has come under fire for not casting Asian actors for Asian roles—like when Scarlett Johansson played the role of Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in a remake of Ghost in the Shell—so this movie made a lot people happy.
Condor’s stunning performance of Lara Jean allowed us to connect with her character; her anxieties and angst resonating with us.
Because of the depth that was put into other characters as well, I could also understand the feelings of other characters. Having a younger sibling myself, I could relate with both Lara Jean and Kitty, but I could also see Peter Kavinsky’s (played by Noah Centineo) side. The personal growth that these characters experience throughout the movie made me root for them. As someone who is quite introverted and lives in her own fantasies, I found myself excited for Lara Jean, her personal success in becoming a more confident person a hopeful thought for both me and other reserved teenagers.
SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER
Despite a promising trailer (notwithstanding revealing almost the entire story within two minutes), Sierra Burgess is a Loser disappointed in so many ways. The storyline based off of the play Cyrano de Bergerac seemed interesting at first: a popular boy by the name of Jamey (Noah Centineo) mistakenly texts Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser, known for her portrayal of “Barb” on another Netflix Original, Stranger Things), a studious and unpopular plain teenageer, mistaking her number for that of the pretty cheerleader, Veronica (Kristine Froseth). Instead of revealing her identity, Sierra continues their texting, leading Jamey on in behavior known as catfishing.
I thought that with catfishing (the act of luring someone into a relationship while pretending to be someone else) being a modern topic, the film would address the problems associated with it. Instead, I found myself in the unique position of rooting for the antagonist (Veronica) to get the guy for a slew of reasons.
While I applaud the casting and the movie’s attempts to address toxic insecurities girls these girls may face in high school, having Sierra use these self-doubts as an excuse for her bad behaviour is disgusting. With the #MeToo movement still fresh, Sierra using her insecurities to justify kissing Jamey while he believes her to be someone else feels icky.
Sierra uses the same excuse when, after gaining Veronica’s trust, she leaks photos of her new best friend to engineer Veronica’s social downfall. When she uses her lack of confidence and insecurities about herself to justify questionable choices and actions, it reveals how weak her character is, which makes her really unlikeable.
The homophobic and transphobic jokes also turned me off this film. At one point, Sierra fakes being deaf in front of Jamey and his brother to avoid revealing her identity. Movies these days should aim to avoid these types of jokes and offensive comments. I’m not the only one who feels this way: the scene where Sierra pretends to be deaf generated significant backlash. Actor, model and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco lashed out at Netflix, saying on Twitter, “When I learned [about my friend’s deaf son being in the movie], I was elated.
Finally more deaf actors/representation & ASL inclusion in films…. Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke. PS- pretending to be deaf is NOT ok.”
But there are some parts that I enjoyed and would love to see more of in other films. Sierra Burgess is a Loser stepped away from typical chick-flick casting tropes by hiring a larger actress whose character doesn’t seem to let any of the insults thrown at her to diminish her personality, even though she struggles with her own lack of confidence.
While I appreciate aspects of Sierra’s character, like her confidence and personality, the offensive joking and self-justifying she engages in throughout the movie without any repercussions makes Sierra Burgess an unlikeable protagonist.
Written by Isabel C.