I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed “Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List”; it begins as an insufferable Diablo Cody hipster fest, but manages to redeem itself quite well by the second act. My initial draw to the film is Victoria Justice (who I’ll watch in anything), but through her basic name recognition is a pretty charming and complex tale about co-dependency and realizing that nothing is forever. Not even friendship. Naomi and Ely are best friends and neighbors inflicted with some rather immense and damaging psychoses and unresolved issues. After Ely came out of the closet as a young man, his mom also came out and married a woman. Naomi’s father happened to cheat on her mother with Ely’s mom, prompting a terrible conflict.
While Ely’s mothers found a way to reconcile, Naomi’s parents never made up, prompting Naomi’s mother to live in a perpetual state of mourning for her once happy marriage. Naomi and Ely still remained friends, and rely on one another almost to the point where it can be quite burdensome for other people. Eventually both friends find themselves walking down their own paths, as Ely figures out he wants to progress with relationships and seek some stability. Naomi on the other hand realizes she’s in love with him, and has some difficulty accepting he’s only in to men, despite their tight bond. Director Kristin Hanggi balances the shifting tone of the film well, as “Naomi and Ely’s…” gradually transforms in to a bittersweet tale about growing up and letting go of the past.
Justice gives a surprisingly solid turn as the brutally flawed and somewhat petulant Naomi who is a vague reflection of her mom, anxiously trying to keep her life from moving forward. It’s a real shock to her system when she finally realizes Ely will never stop being Gay, prompting her to seek a shoulder to cry on through various people. Justice is that perfect dream girl who inspires a small group of male admirers that live within her vicinity, but deep down is just a broken doll looking for some way to mend her scars. Through the smiles and charm, she’s really sad, and relies almost too heavily on Ely.
Naomi could have really been an irritating protagonist, but Justice redeems the character without a hitch. Pierson Forde provides a great balance as Naomi’s ultra supportive best friend, who seeks some kind of change from the norm, and accidentally finds it in the most unlikely place he’d imagined. When he breaks the “No Kiss List” this creates a rift, and a platform to discover if their friendship is meant to stand the test of time. Hanggi draws very down to Earth characters, and touches upon a milestone in many people’s lives they inevitably have to face. While it’s not a masterpiece, it works as a breezy and charming drama comedy with strong performances all around.