Nick and Norah's Inifinite Playlist
Every generation deserves its own too-cool-for-school teen movie. For some of us it was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Others had Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Heathers, or Dazed and Confused, or Human Traffic… They may not seem cool to older folk, but what do the young care about that?
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist sets out to be such a film. It relates a night in the life of two teen misfits. Nick (a typically decent and befuddled Michael Cera) might be cool - he’s the straight bass player in a queercore band - except that he’s carrying a pathetic candle for his ex, Tris, a good looking but manipulative, superficial two-timer (played by Alexis Dziena). Norah (Kat Dennings) really is cool, but she doesn’t know it. A Jewish girl at a Catholic girls’ school – Tris is a “frenemy” – she feels ugly and too smart for the few guys she knows. (She has an indeterminate friendship of sorts with an older guy, an aspiring musician played by Jay Baruchel, but he turns out to have ulterior motives.)
She falls for Nick on the strength of mix tapes and love notes he persists in giving to Tris even after they’ve broken up. He’s into Vampire Weekend and The Real Tuesday Weld (the movie isn’t shy about its own hip quota). When they meet, by chance, at a New York club, it’s to see Bishop Allen. They meet cute with a kiss to forestall Norah’s blushes – she doesn’t want to look boyfriendless – and set out on a sometimes fraught but never particularly perilous adventure to track down a mystery gig by the legendary (fictional) band, Where’s Fluffy?
This quest is complicated when Norah’s inebriated friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) goes AWOL in the city. What Caroline gets up to with a stick of gum you won’t soon forget – in fact the gum practically has a starring role in its own underground movie within the movie.
The plot is pure John Hughes, but these kids are more sophisticated than Hughes’ heroes. They know their way around the New York club scene, drive a Yugo (badly), trade ironic quips with a semi-detached wit. When that fails, Norah can punch above her weight too. It’s refreshing that they emerge as individual personalities, not types. Refreshing, too, how the picture steers clear of the vulgarity that permeates Judd Apatow’s movies – including, of course, Michael Cera’s Superbad.
Nick and Norah (no relation to the characters played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man series) is the second film from director Peter Sollett, whose first was the naturalistic slice of Hispanic New York life, Raising Victor Vargas.
This one is entirely different in terms of tone and texture – it’s a dreamy rom-com nocturne, a fairytale of New York – but similar in its sensitivity and unforced tempo. You can tell he’s a local boy. Locations are lovingly chosen and photographed; there’s a real sense of how a city shifts gears after hours.
Episodic and perhaps a little too cute in places, the film is charming and funny and – as the bickering couple come to realize what they have found in each other – it has a sweetness that doesn’t cloy.
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