Two minutes in and it’s already an assault on the senses: from scribbled scrapbookish title sequences, to waivering cameras, via both voiceovers and on-screen dialogue. Sis, it’s a lot. We get the film’s eponymous best friends: gay boy Ely and straight girl Naomi (a classic combo, let’s be real). A supposed central plot point is introduced: their ‘no kiss list’: a collection of boys they both fancy and are thus off limits’ And there begins a visual introduction to the world we’ll be living in for the next hour and a half: two perfectly quirky (and conveniently adjacent) young adult bedrooms in the heart of an idealised and colourful New York City. Okay, yes, it’s a lot for eyes and ears to deal with, but at least we can say for certain that the scene is set.
Top Tip: Try not to be overwhelmed by the chaotic and busy visuals early on. They do calm down eventually.
Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (Kristin Hanggi, 2015) is a coming-of-age comedy film, the incarnation of a quirky 2007 Young Adult novel of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. And, because it’s David Levithan, we’ve got a gay male lead and a non-traditional narrative – though that’s not exactly a new concept here at Every Gay Movie. The story revolves around the problems that arise in Ely and Naomi’s friendship when they fall for the same man. Though both protagonists are rounded characters, the foucs skews a little more towards Naomi as she deals with her emotionally dependent mother, looming future and complicated romantic feelings for pretty much every boy she’s friends with except her boyfriend.
Britney Line Time: “Don’t go knockin’ on my door / Do what you want / As long as you don’t come back”
As you may anticipate, Naomi gets annoying early on; so much so that it becomes difficult to find sympathy for her personal struggles. At one point, she is literally the straight girl slut-dropping in the gay club. And we all know that girl. Eventually, though, she does wear you down – helped by her much more approachable nerd friend Robin, aka Monique “how does she still look that young nine years after High School Musical” Coleman. (Yes, she just plays the same character again, and it’s great.) I did have to ask myself ‘is this just internalised misogyny?’ (another question was ‘can we still say f*g hag?’) (the answer to that is no.) Ultimately, I think that’s part of the point – to break down our assumptions.
Look, I’m not going to lie, I was expecting this film to be quite generic. However, it did have some capacity to surprise me with a fair few well-placed misdirects. For example, the gay romantic story took me a little off-guard when it came – I imagine you, like I, will see it coming, but not quite believe it until it happens. Looking elsewhere, the climax of Naomi’s emotional arc lands in perhaps an unexpected place. Much more trivially, and maybe not the filmmakers’ fault, I spent the whole film thinking the beautiful Gabriel was played by Noa Centineo (it’s Netflix, can you blame me?), when it was in fact Matthew Daddario. Take a look for yourself:
I’m not going to tell you which one is which because I’m not 100% myself.
While the film is full of gorgeous people (Ely is also fine as hell), it’s not just the actors who provide pleasing and intriguing visuals. Fish eye lenses are used throughout for various effects, and seem to bizarrely make sense in nearly all of them. They can represent, in turn, all of hopeful promise, gay panic (the memeable variety, not the homophobic legal ‘defense’), hangovered and hazy vision, and a kind of smitten wonderment at the world around you.
Overall, the film’s main strength is pointed out by the narrator herself: it acknowledges the importance of different kinds of love. If anything, friendships are put on more of a pedestal than romantic relationships, and our protagonists certainly care more about preserving what they have with each other than they do about persuing romance. This is refreshing; not just for queer cinema but cinema in general. Friendships are shown to be just as complicated and tense as romantic relationships; eventually, we see that sometimes you need time apart to grow, and it can be just as unhealthy to rely emotionally and exclusively on one friend as it can be to rely on a partner. Is Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List’s exploration of non-linear relationship progress, as well as its reprioritastion of relationships’ values, perhaps thematically queer in and of itself?
Biggest Gay Mood: Going shirtless for Halloween.
This film does have some flaws: mostly, (and yes I’m going on about this again), unnecessary teen rom-com cliches. Bruce 1, as they call him, has that whole creepy obsession with the female protagonist thing going on which (thankfully) doesn’t really go anywhere. And at one point someone walks into a shop and removes the ‘Help Wanted’ sign, and I refuse to believe that it’s that easy to get a job in New York City. However, look past these flaws and you will find a surprisingly unique voice, a few clever twists, and a heavy dose of charm. If nothing else, it’s fun and interesting to look at, and I don’t just mean Pierson Fodé’s abs.