Featured Illustration: Annabelle Klein
*Note: This piece contains spoilers for the following films: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth 1+2.
. . .
Two years ago, the world of young adults was shaken with the arrival of the film adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The gorgeous colour palette and aesthetics that perfectly captured the essence of Lara-Jean Covey and her picture-perfect world had sealed the deal for me — I was hooked. And with a well-developed Asian-American female character leading the helm? Take my money!
The first film was beautiful. So its sequel should not have left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. By the time the credits rolled out, the movie felt incomplete and rushed through. To me, there was still a huge question mark left at the end. That was it? There was something missing, something awkward about this second movie that I could not place a finger on just yet.
But when I finished watching The Kissing Booth 2, it was like a light bulb had switched on above my head. How could I have missed this in the first place?
Both sequels of two of the most hyped-up young adult movie franchises of this era had the exact same recipe. Think about it: the main girl has problems with her (white) boyfriend, and then miracles of all miracles, a gorgeous boy of a non-white background comes in and sweeps her off her feet. The girl appears to have a much more stable connection to him than what we witnessed between her and her (white) love interest in the first movie. The girl and PoC kiss, drama ensues, and the girl goes back to her (white) boyfriend in the end, who, frankly, has acted like an ass throughout the entire film.
Although in the case of P.S. I Still Love You, after Lara-Jean kisses John, she immediately realizes it’s the white boy she truly loves. There’s not much drama in between. Within seconds of that kiss-just-to-confirm-my-true-feelings, Lara-Jean and Peter get back together and float up into the sky, all sunshine and rainbows. End of story and everyone’s happy. Guess who isn’t?
Marco Peña and John Ambrose McClaren are merely figures created to entertain us with their good looks, utter loveliness, and the fact that they’re men of colour. They ooze with charm and charisma. There’s seemingly nothing wrong with them and everyone adores them. So what’s the big deal?
Maybe they’re just too perfect. “Plot device” is their middle name, as the whole story revolves around the girl battling her growing feelings for this pillar of support while their respective boyfriends fool around with other girls. They’re such good guys, they don’t even get mad when they realize they were being played and were just a distraction from the girl’s crumbling romance with the white guy. They exist for the convenience of the main characters. You would think they disappeared once the cameras stopped rolling. Marco and John Ambrose were marketed as lead characters — so make it apparent that they are.
All the signs are literally pointing towards the second love interest, saying, “Pick me!”, “Choose me!”, “I’m the one you should be rooting for!” There is absolutely no reason why we should be leaning more towards the white guy, whom the movie blatantly encourages us to doubt and dislike.
(I still die a little inside as I remember Lara-Jean’s face when she realizes Peter was waiting for Genevieve at the hot tub instead of her).
So what is the girl doing by throwing herself back into the ‘loving’ arms of her white boyfriend? A ton of red flags were raised throughout the entirety of their relationship, to the point which really makes you wonder whether they’ll actually stick together by the end. But it’s a Netflix rom-com — of course they’re going to.
At the rate both sequels were going, I honestly wouldn’t have minded if the girl did away with both boys. We could’ve gotten a cute scene of her dancing her sorrows away with her girlfriends and learning to put her feelings first instead of a ridiculous reconciliation scene where they only reaffirmed their love for each other without addressing the problems of their relationship. Yeah sure, we get a few reasons why they acted the way they did, but is there actually confirmation that they’ll try to better themselves?
(I haven’t a clue, I skipped through that scene in The Kissing Booth 2).
In these warped out depictions of ‘teenage’ life, we are taught that love can conquer all, no matter how problematic and immature your partner is.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good romantic comedy. I love the movies that critics love to hate. In fact, I live for them. But I would like for scriptwriters to make characters of colour a little fleshed out, less like cardboard cutouts and more like actual human beings who breathe and cry and get angry like all of us do. It’s 2020, a time when we should be making no excuses for such lazy attempts at representation.