The selected film is The Kissing Booth, an American romantic comedy. The film is about the friendship between Elle Evans, played by Joey King and Lee Flynn, played by Joel Courtney. Elle and Lee were born by mothers who were best friends. They started their friendship from childhood and continued throughout the film. This friendship is shaken when Elle falls in love with Lee’s brother Noah Flynn, played by Jacob Elordi. While there were no romantic feelings between Lee and Elle, both friends had agreed to avoid dating each other’s family while they were children. The childhood pact makes Elle and Noah make their affair secretive. Eventually, Lee finds out and gets angry at Elle and his brother. Lee, later on, accepts the relationship between Elle and Noah. This happens when Noah is about to leave town for college in Boston. Elle, later on, escorts Noah to the airport, which marks the end of their love affair. This essay examines the film based on the youth transitions and youth culture topics and shows how the film presents the topics of family/home/social class, gender and sexuality.
Family/home/ social class
One prominent theme evident throughout the film is family/home/social class. This theme is seen through the familial and friendship relationships between the characters. Elle lives with her father and her younger brother. Her mother dies at the beginning of the film. Lee and Noah are also siblings who live together with their parents. The two families are close to each other. Before her death, Elle’s mother was best friends with Lee’s mother. Elle and Lee are also best friends since childhood, while Elle and Noah have a romantic relationship. The strong bond between Lee and Elle and their families can be seen in their social capital as both families meet on Sundays to have a meal and spend time with each other. Elle is also invited to parties hosted by Noah and Lee at their home. The strong bond is also seen as Noah, Lee, and Elle protect each other and spend time together in school and social functions outside school (Marcello, 2018).
The theme of family/home/social class is also seen by the habitus between the characters. The strong bond between Lee and Elle can also be seen by their habitus, where the two friends develop a set of rules to govern their friendship. Habitus influences actions and choices in friendships (Hamilton & Deegan, 2019). In this case, the set of rules created by Lee and Elle in childhood remain valid even in their teenage years. These rules have a major influence on how their decisions as they prevent Elle from dating Noah. While Elle wants to be with Noah, she ends the relationship in order to follow the rules (Marcello, 2018).
The theme of family/home/social class can also be seen in the social status of the characters. Both Elle and Lee family have economic capital due to their lifestyle. Lee’s family lives in a large house with a swimming pool. The house can be seen several times as it is used for parties by Noah and Lee. Additionally, Lee, Noah and Elle all attend a private school. Private schools in the United States are expensive, thus limiting their access to children from wealthy families (Jerrim et al., 2015). The economic capital of Elle, Lee and Noah is also brought by the inequalities associated with the private school system. Private schools increase the level of inequality in an area as they have resources that are not available in public schools. This difference in resources advantages the students from the private schools. One example of the advantage that private school students enjoy is the higher chance of joining top colleges as compared to public school pupils (Flanagan, 2021). This privilege can be seen as Noah receives the admission letter from Harvard University. Viewers can deduce that class and privilege influence his joining a top college since he is not portrayed as a smart student or person interested in studying. Noah also misses several classes due to his disagreement with Elle (Marcello, 2018).
Another theme present throughout the film is gender. This theme can be seen through patriarchy or hegemonic masculinity. Male figures are dominant and hold positions of authority. These dominant male figures include Elle’s father, Elle’s school principal, Noah and Lee. The male figures are given the power to control the female characters. As the only parent, Elle’s father has a substantial say in her social and school life. This power can be seen as Noah informs him that he wants to date his daughter. Elle’s father, however, provides his daughter with the freedom of choosing whomever she wants to date (Marcello, 2018).
Another male figure given authority is the school principal. While the film does not show the presence of gender bias in hiring the principal, Martínez et al. (2020) explain that males dominate school principal positions in developed countries despite having a lower number of teachers as compared to females. Green (2015) further explains that the gender and the race of the principal influence the performance of the students as well as gender and racial bias. This is evident as the principal punishes both Elle and Tuppen for the fight between Noah and Tuppen after Tuppen had sexually assaulted Elle (Marcello, 2018). Elle’s punishment shows that the principal’s decision was influenced by gender bias; he believed that her wearing a short dress contributed to her sexual assault and the fight that followed after the sexual assault.
Lee and Noah are also male figures who exert control over Elle. Noah controls Elle’s dating life by forbidding his teammates from dating her. These threats have an effect on Elle’s dating life as Tuppen stands her up, fearing Noah. Lee also stops Elle from dating Noah by claiming that a relationship between his brother and best friend would break their friendship rules. Lee’s decisions seem unfair and inconsiderate of Elle’s feelings (Marcello, 2018). Reed et al. (2021) explain that teenage boys are more likely to engage in controlling behaviour as compared to girls as they follow gender stereotypes that encourage male dominance.
The theme of gender can also be seen in the gender roles portrayed in the film. The males in the film are portrayed as violent. Throughout the film, the males use violence to resolve their differences. Noah fights with Tuppen after Tuppen had sexually assaulted Elle. Noah also threatens other boys with violence if they try to date Elle. Despite being smaller, Lee also tries to fight with Noah after he finds out about his affair with Elle. Additionally, the film shows that violence is desirable among teenage boys. Noah is depicted as an angry and violent teenager who admits that his parents have tried to obtain treatment for his violent outbursts. Despite all the violence, Noah is portrayed as the most desirable boy in the school as the female students, including Elle, desire a romantic relationship with him. The less violent Lee is not considered desirable. This is seen when Elle presents Lee as the Flynn brother who is going to be working in the kissing booth. This announcement left the female students disappointed as they were waiting for Noah to be in the kissing booth (Marcello, 2018). The film perpetuates gender stereotypes where males are supposed to be strong, tough and dominant. These gender stereotypes make adolescent males aggressive and violent (Reidy et al., 2015).
The film also portrays the females as subordinates. Femininity or the value of women in the film is highly dependent on her interaction with men. This can be seen in how women interact with Elle once they think she is dating Noah. Three popular and mean girls, Olivia, Mia and Gwyneth, become friendly to Elle once they think she is dating Noah. Elle’s life also revolves around Noah and Lee (Marcello, 2018).
There are also instances where the dominant gender stereotypes are resisted by the characters. This symbolic resistance is mostly done by Elle as she tries to stop the male dominance in her life. Elle confronts Noah once she hears about him preventing his teammates from dating her. Another instance where Elle defies Noah is at the scene where she enters the male changing room. Elle accidentally enters the male bathroom after having a paint fight. She then proceeds to remove her top without noticing that she is in the wrong bathroom. Before she can strip further, Noah tries to remove her from the room. Elle defies Noah by running around the changing room. Elle is also defiant as she confronts Lee about their disagreement. Lee remains adamant that the childhood rules apply, and she is not allowed to date Noah. Elle responds by saying that she will pursue the relationship even if it means her friendship with Lee will end. This makes Lee change his mind and support the relationship (Marcello, 2018).
The theme of sexuality is also prominent throughout the film. This theme can be seen by the name of the movie. The film is about a kissing booth where teenage boys and girls are required to pay to kiss each other. The kissing booth was organised by Elle and Lee, and it became highly successful (Marcello, 2018). The success of the kissing booth shows that the characters in the film are not afraid to show their sexuality. It also shows that society supports the sexual expression of the youth. Hills (2014) argues that the American population is increasingly becoming sexually liberal, especially among individuals of the younger ages. This has made it easier for people to express themselves in a sexual way (Hills, 2014).
The theme of sexuality can also be seen through the sexual life of the characters. Elle is presented as a person who is both naïve and open to exploring her sexuality. The sexual naivety of Elle can be seen by the fact that she is yet to have her first kiss before kissing Noah at the kissing booth. Elle is also presented as a person who is open to explore her sexuality as the director sexualises her throughout the film. She is sexualised when she tears her school uniform and decides to wear a short skirt to school. She is further sexualised when everyone in school stares at her due to her short skirt. The sexualisation continues when Tuppen, a male student, grabs her butt due to her short skirt. Elle is also seen stripping naked while drunk at Noah’s party and while at the beach. She also proceeds to change her clothes at the men locker room. Elle also cannot resist Noah’s sexual advances and risks her friendship with Lee for her sexual and romantic relationship with Noah (Marcello, 2018). The presentation of Elle as sexually naïve and sexually ready at the same time is in line with the argument by Hills (2014), who states that while sex is heavily promoted in the United States, it continues to be seen as a sinful act.
The theme of sexuality is also presented in the film by showing that friendship and love overcome sexual desire. Elle ends her relationship with Noah in order to maintain her friendship with Lee. This shows that she values her friendship more than her sexual relationship. Noah also respects Elle’s decision to end their relationship. He sacrifices his sexual relationship in order to maintain his strong relationship with his brother and maintain positive relations with Elle (Marcello, 2018).
In conclusion, the film is a romantic comedy that revolves around the friendship between Lee and Elle and the romantic relationship between Elle and Lee’s brother, Noah. The youth topics present in the film include family/home/social class. This topic is seen through the familial and friendship relationships between the characters. It is also seen in the habitus between the characters, especially Lee and Elle, who have a set of rules to govern their friendship. The theme of family/home/social class is also seen through the economic capital that Lee, Noah and Elle possess. Another theme is gender which is presented in the form of patriarchy or hegemonic masculinity and gender roles for both teenage boys and girls. The dominant gender stereotypes are also resisted in the film. Another topic present in the film is sexuality. This theme can be seen by the name of the movie and the sexual life of the characters. Sexuality is also evident as the characters sacrifice their sexual relationships for love and friendship.
Flanagan, C. (2021, April). Private schools have become truly obscene. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/04/private-schools-are- indefensible/618078/
Green, R. (2015). Effect of principal and student gender on New York City high school performance outcomes. SAGE Open, 5(3), 2158244015591707.
Hamilton, M., & Deegan, J. (2019). Girls’ friendships as habitus in an elite, middle-class secondary school in Ireland. Journal of Youth Studies, 22(7), 1000-1016.
Hills, R. (2014, December 2). What Every Generation Gets Wrong About Sex. Time. https://time.com/3611781/sexual-revolution-revisited/
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Reidy, D. E., Smith-Darden, J. P., Cortina, K. S., Kernsmith, R. M., & Kernsmith, P. D. (2015). Masculine discrepancy stress, teen dating violence, and sexual violence perpetration among adolescent boys. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(6), 619-624.