I’ve been watching a lot of random movies on the German Netflix recently. Though the selection has vastly improved since I first registered with the site, it still doesn’t have most of my usual, go-to feel-good movies. Sometimes, I want a lighthearted, happy movie. At these times, I have two choices: I could (1) watch something I’ve already seen and thought was mediocre; or I could (2) watch something I haven’t seen and other people thought was mediocre.
I sometimes find myself 30 minutes into a movie and unable to go on. (At which point I pause it and then probably watch the rest of the movie a few days later when I next crave the same sort of distraction.) Sometimes, I find gems.
Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (rated 2/5 stars on Netflix and holding a 5.7/10 rating on IMDB) was one such gem. This review will not be spoiler free. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend viewing it.
The Plot Summary
Naomi and Ely live in apartments next door to each other, and always have. They are best friends forged in the fires of their respective familial problems (involving Naomi’s father having an affair with one of Ely’s mothers). The pair relishes in being wild and scandalizing the world around them, and are attached at the hip around the clock. Having decided that they will be together forever, Naomi has created with Ely a “no kiss list”: a list of men that are off limits for both of them.
Though Ely identifies as gay, Naomi reasons to herself that his self-asserted gayness is hypothetical as he hasn’t yet had any experience to speak of. So when they graduate from high school and Ely’s sexuality suddenly becomes a lot less hypothetical, Naomi finds herself wrong-footed. She leans on her own budding relationship with Bruce 2 (yes, there is a Bruce 1). But it is Ely’s urging and Naomi’s fear of being left behind that drive her attempts to deepen the physical intimacy with Bruce 2. Despite her outwardly flirty behavior, Naomi’s own insecurities run rampant, putting distance between them.
It is in searching for an absent Naomi that Bruce 2 and Ely come to spend some time alone and find that they feel a true connection. Soon after, Ely confesses to Naomi. Naomi reacts to the betrayal by breaking up with Ely.
Separated, Ely grows closer with Bruce 2; while Naomi discovers the world beyond Ely, including a friend, a job and an attractive man who had been on the No Kiss List. In time, Naomi learns to let go of her anger; and Ely comes to understand that it was not Bruce 2’s loss but his own perceived betrayal that hurt Naomi.
They reconcile tearfully.
The Characters and Relationships
At the start of the film, Naomi and Ely are, simply, two teenagers in a relationship so obsessively close that they have no need of anyone else. Theirs is a platonic friendship, yes; but that friendship is so close and so deep, so fulfilling to them both, that they can behave wildly, disrespecting and disregarding all others, with no fear of alienation. They have everything they need in each other.
Except for sex. And this is why Ely ventures out of the sanctuary that he and Naomi have created for themselves.
It is made fairly clear that Naomi hopes that Ely’s gayness will remain hypothetical. Had Ely never started seeking attention elsewhere, Naomi would have been perfectly content to remain as they were. It’s a running “joke” between Ely and Naomi that they will get married when they grow up—and despite everything, it is apparent that Naomi hopes that that is exactly what will happen.
As part of their general disregard for others, Ely and Naomi as a team are wild and flirtatious. Ely, in exploring his sexuality, chooses not to learn with a single boyfriend but with a series of one night stands. Meanwhile, Naomi relishes and encourages the attention she gets from men—but seems to have no intention of taking things beyond kissing. She is only spurred into trying more after Ely’s experience moves beyond kissing.
Naomi and Bruce 2’s relationship is a sweet, gentle, fumbling one. Bruce 2 is, like many others, infatuated with Naomi; Naomi, meanwhile, is motivated to pursue intimacy with Bruce 2 because of the changes in her relationship with Ely. It is, as relationships go, a very casual, shallow one. Its mere end would have been of very little hardship for either of them.
The complication comes entirely because Ely kisses Bruce 2 while he is still Naomi’s boyfriend.
Bruce 2’s relationship with Ely doesn’t get much screen time, but it is portrayed beautifully. It is not, perhaps, the most profound of love stories. What it is is simply this: two people, relatively new to romance and sex, experiencing their first real love.
Bruce 2’s realization of his own sexuality is not handled dramatically. He is quick to accept his attraction to Ely. Even when he comes out to his mother, Bruce 2 finds himself unsure what to think when his mother simply takes it in stride with no big reaction, positive or negative. Bruce 2’s struggle is shown to be entirely an internal one—and it’s not portrayed as a struggle of his perceived heterosexuality versus his discovered bisexuality, but rather as a struggle to reconcile his fears and expectations of his role in society versus the reality.
Since this movie focuses more on Naomi, it is a little surprising that the characters that surround her following her break-up with Ely are the least developed. Robin, a classmate of Naomi’s, becomes her new best friend and confidant; Naomi helps Robin gather the courage to spend time with a boy also named Robin. Naomi finds emotional and spiritual fulfillment in a job at a cupcake bakery and a new relationship with Gabriel, the handsome doorman who had been on her No Kiss List.
The fact is, despite what the trailer might suggest, this is not about Naomi and Gabriel’s love story. Gabriel provides support and affection when Naomi finds herself in need. He plays a big part in coaxing her out of her shell of misery and back into her happy self. But Gabriel does not rescue Naomi from her misery: she eventually has to realize on her own that she wants to stop wallowing. Naomi does come to return Gabriel’s affection on a deeper level than any relationship she had had previously (save for Ely). It is a sweet love story. But it takes up relatively little screen time, and in the end, the driving relationship of this story is still Naomi and Ely’s.
The Deus Ex Machina
In their arguing about the betrayal, Ely accuses Naomi of being selfish and blind. He points out that she was never that interested in Bruce 2. They accuse each other of being like Naomi’s parents, with Ely shouting that he is nothing like Naomi’s father and Naomi shocked when Ely accuses her of being like her mother. (This in reference to how Naomi’s father cheated with Ely’s mother and ended up leaving them, while Naomi’s mother took to bed more or less permanently.)
As the movie demonstrates, this is not a rational fight. It is an emotional one. As anyone who has had this sort of fight knows, this is the most dangerous sort of fight. From Ely’s perspective, Naomi is being petty, petulant and overly dramatic about losing someone that she didn’t really want but Ely did. But from Naomi’s perspective, she has been utterly betrayed; and with Ely not understanding this, with anger and hurt clouding every interaction she has with him, she cannot possibly articulate why she is so upset.
Conveniently to the plot, Bruce 2 had been filming a documentary about Naomi while they were dating. He just so happens to find a segment where Naomi explains how miserable she is at her parents’ separation and how she imagines her mother was not thusly affected because of the loss of her husband, but rather because of the loss of her friend.
Bruce 2 shows this segment to Ely, who finally understands Naomi’s anger and feels guilty.
The resolution is that the two of them simply…get over the fight.
Of course, it’s more a case of Naomi letting go of the anger and the hurt, and Ely holding no grudge against her her for needing that much time (a thing that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the deus ex machina above).
It’s a sad reconciliation, in a way, because Naomi and Ely have to admit that they probably won’t ever be how they used to be again. But the love between them remains and Naomi can now talk about Bruce 2 and Ely’s relationship with a smile.
But it’s really the closing statement that made this movie stay with me. The notion that people have not one true love but many; the notion that love is love, whether sexual or not; the notion that these two platonic friends still plan to grow old together as platonic friends. None of this is groundbreaking. These are, however, sentiments that I would love to see expressed more often—and this was a movie that well-capitulated those points.
It was a movie I’m glad I watched.