The Kissing Booth normalizes potentially abusive behaviour

The movie marks a step in the wrong direction for teen rom-coms

Elle and Noah.
Credit: 
Screenshot from Netflix

The Kissing Booth, a popular Netflix original movie released in May, disguises itself as a run-of-the-mill, teen romcom—while carelessly normalizing early warning signs of an abusive relationship.

The film follows Elle Evans, who creates a list of friendship rules with her best friend, Lee, when they’re both children. One of these rules declares relatives of either best friend off limits. It proves problematic for Elle, as she’s crushed on Lee’s older brother, Noah, for her entire childhood. 

Fast forward to junior year, Elle and Lee set up a kissing booth as a fundraiser for their dance club, and Noah kisses Elle to protect her from a prank. This kiss leads to them starting a secret relationship.

While The Kissing Booth is ripe with clichés and sub-par acting, my main issue with the film is of a far more disconcerting nature.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, but I just knew I hated Noah. His only two emotions seemed to be angry and horny. At one point, he makes a sexist joke, telling Elle wearing a short skirt is “asking for it,” after a guy touches her without consent. 

Noah gets extremely jealous and threatens any guy interested in Elle, though he can’t publicly be with her anyways. He then justifies his jealousy as protecting her because all those other guys are players—even though he is considered a player himself. 

I could go on. 

But it wasn’t until a scene on the beach, where Noah bangs on the hood of his car and yells at a reluctant Elle to get in it, that the reason for my dislike towards him sunk in. 

The moment made me think of something I’d once read on abusive relationships: “if he’s hitting an inanimate object when talking to you, it’s because he wants to hit you and/or scare you into submission.”

The scene gets worse. Noah gets Elle into his car and instead of taking her home, he sleeps with her and convinces her that he’s different, so she should be in a relationship with him. 

When Lee finds out about his best friend and brother’s secret relationship, Noah involves himself in Elle and Lee’s fight and ends up creating a larger rift between the two of them.

After finishing the movie, I pulled up a WikiHow article called “Recognize Signs of an Abusive Man.” The site could just as easily have embedded a picture of Noah’s face and called it a day. 

Some of the signs listed include seeming perfect, being controlling, disrespecting women, intense jealousy and writing jealousy off as protective instincts, aggression towards others and inanimate objects, demanding commitment, and isolating a partner from their friends.

Now, had the film condemned Noah’s behaviours or included a commentary on the naivety of young relationships, I could understand the value of his character. However—spoiler alert—Elle rides off into the sunset on a motorcycle with no regrets at the end.

The film’s labelling as a teen rom-com makes me think Netflix—which can be accessed easily by young people from any device—should employ more tact when determining which narratives they choose when marketing to younger audiences.

The Kissing Booth writes abusive tendencies into a storyline and acts as if nothing is wrong with it, which normalizes intolerant behaviour and could discourage someone in a similar position from seeking the help they need.

The Kissing Booth writes abusive tendencies into a storyline and acts as if nothing is wrong with it, which normalizes intolerant behaviour and could discourage someone in a similar position from seeking the help they need.

Instead, Netflix should use their platform to show young people what an unhealthy relationship looks like and how to get out of it. 

It’s incredibly disheartening to see such a leap backwards in the standards of teen rom-coms. Abusive behaviour in a relationship isn’t romantic or funny, and Netflix should strive for more than this. 

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