Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List
Hollywood can be a fickle mistress sometimes, and how it comes to pass that the adaptation of the next book by the cabal that brought you Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist doesn’t get a decent budget, or theatrical push, is a bit of a mystery. Though not a film that broke box office records, it holds up well and has a decent fan base. It has to make you wonder, barring a massive star interested in the work, if this isn’t about the best gay gets you.
Exploring a different branch of relationships, and then spinning them down the same old path of betrayal, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List follows a few weeks (or whatever) in the life of Naomi (Victoria Justice) and her gay best friend Ely (Pierson Fode). The titular gimmick of their friendship doesn’t actually play a large role in the film, except that they endlessly explain it to you during the first act. That fact alone goes sideways in a hurry, because it’s so outlandishly unrealistic in its display. Establishment is one thing, but thinking your audience isn’t very bright is another, and college kids who have been friends since they were very young don’t endlessly, and long-windedly refer to, and explain, their own inside jokes.
The film quickly lays out a friendship that is rather beyond your typical “besties,” with Naomi and Ely not merely spending all of their free time with each other, but generally sleeping in a pillow fort apartment at the stop of their apartment building’s staircase. Naomi has a boyfriend, Bruce #2 (Ryan Ward), but when he comes to pick her up for a date, he learns that Ely is coming with them, and Naomi and Ely don’t even register the oddity of the idea enough to refer to it at all. It’s that sort of friendship. Also, Naomi has a bit of a fantasy that Ely will “wake up” one day.
With such a friendship, where both friends are interested in the same sex, it’s a good idea to have some kind of rule about what happens when both friends find themselves interested in the same person. Naomi and Ely decided, apparently long ago, that anyone they are both interested in goes on a “No Kiss List,” thus avoiding potential conflict.
One of the film’s small annoyances is that it fancies itself the inventor of the idea, and it seems based solely on the premise that a straight girl and gay boy are friends. Somehow, it eludes the structure of the story, and display of this particular friendship, that best friends being attracted to the same sex is actually the status quo. I imagine (because I’ve seen movies) that when adolescent girls are together, having their secret moments, they have their own system of “marking” boys as off limits to one, or both (or more) of the friendship circle. On the other hand (because I’ve seen other movies), it could just be that they have a complex system of figuring out who to hate after the fact.
Boys just have dibs.
At any rate, as anyone might guess, a film with this title is pretty likely to expose a flaw in the system. Adding to the difficulty of the fairly obvious scenario, Naomi and Ely, like all besties, might have to grow up a bit at some point. Oddly enough, if the breakdown in who kisses who were stripped from the film, it would probably be miles better. While there is a certain relationship-jarring zing to Ely kissing altogether the wrong boy, it’s really the progression of the relationship from children to adult, as opposed to the, I suppose, transcendence of the betrayal, that works well. That could have to do with the adaptation, the actors, or even the direction, all of which have their problems, but this is a film that works best when it seems to be trying least, and it isn’t aware of the fact.
Justice, while fine enough overall, is outside her effective range when “things get real,” and director Kristin Hanggi (largely known as the Broadway director of Rock of Ages) isn’t especially adept at keeping scenes from slipping toward an almost cartoony appearance. Beyond that, the dialog often leans more toward the way you imagine people might talk, as opposed to trying to explore real people, something that stands out as especially odd since we’re forced to compare it to Nick and Norah, which might have struggled slightly with the opposite problem.
It’s ultimately a largely disposable effort, that is nevertheless somewhat fun, but it doesn’t especially give the impression that it is even for those who are the characters’ age, which is always a tricky place to aim.
CastVictoria Justice, Pierson Fode, Matthew Daddario
SynopsisNaomi & Ely’s No Kiss List follows Naomi and Ely, two lifelong best friends who have been in love with each other their whole lives, even though Ely isn’t exactly into girls. The institution of a "No Kiss List" has prevented the two from rifts in the past, but their bond is tested when they both fall for the same guy. Now, the once inseparable pair must determine if their friendship can survive the complicated rollercoaster of emotions that are inevitable with adolescence.