Movie Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

By Matthew Huntley

October 14, 2008

This is the wussiest rock band since Nelson.

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Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist has one great thing going for it, and it's in the name. This is a movie with a rich and populous soundtrack, full of rhythmic, eclectic, and understated songs by some very talented artists, including Chris Bell, The Real Tuesday Weld and Army Navy, among others. Their mellow acoustics and nondescript lyrics are meant to be universally appealing and generate a soothing, relaxing and euphonious listening experience.

The filmmakers obviously have great affection for music and its artists, who are probably the most influential artists in our daily lives (next to graphic designers), and had the movie had been more about humanity's love of music instead of its wandering and predictable plot, it would have really been something special (think Almost Famous for a slightly younger generation). But it ultimately walks down a road we've traveled several times before, with the only difference being its sweet sound.

This is yet another romantic comedy where you only have to see the trailers to know the outcome of the story. I know that's more or less a given for the genre, but I was at least hoping it wouldn't throw this many cliches into its mix.

In the movie, Nick (Michael Cera of Superbad and Juno) is a high school senior who plays bass guitar in a band called The Jerkoffs. He's depressed because his girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena), has recently dumped him. He tries to win her back by leaving her long-winded phone messages and making her mixed CDs.

Nick's colorful band mates - Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) - are gay, and when they tell him they have a gig that night, he tells them he's taking a mental health day - "You don't know how tough it is to be straight." They convince him to come along and promise to seek out a notoriously hidden band called Where's Fluffy? So Nick stuffs his guitar into his yellow Yugo and heads into Manhattan.

Norah (Kat Dennings), another high school senior, also embarks on a mission to find the band with best her friend Caroline (Ari Graynor). As it turns out, Norah goes to the same high school as Tris and has been listening to Nick's mixed CDs after Tris throws them away. Of course, Norah is made out to be the polar opposite of Tris - she's humble, thoughtful and organic. She's also devoted to the well being of her friends. Tris is your typical snob - superficial, selfish, dissolute. As such, her character is a device whose only purpose is to suggest the two main characters might not end up together. Like that would ever happen.


At their gig, Norah meets Nick and asks him to be her boyfriend for five minutes to prove to Tris she didn't come alone (she doesn't know Nick is Tris' ex). What do you know, Nick and Norah find out they have a lot in common and start engaging in deep conversation about life, love, music, etc. When Caroline gets drunk and winds up lost in the city, Nick, Norah and the other band members begin searching for her in a night-long adventure, which, as you know, will end with Nick and know the drill.

I imagine many people are going to love this movie. Many females (and maybe some males) will likely think it's cute and heartwarming while music aficionados will admire the soundtrack and the way it portrays the club scene. They'll also appreciate it for the way it depicts the dedication of young people to do anything and everything to hear their favorite band.

I remain indifferent. On one level, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist does have some catchy tunes, and its elemental characters sometimes talk like real teenagers, which is refreshing. But on another, what they have to say isn't all that interesting or fresh. Plus, they're placed on such a fixed and definite path, I either wanted them to talk about something completely outside the convenience of the plot or get a move on to the inevitable.

The screenplay by Lorene Scafaria is erratic and uninspired. It takes these characters to places that aren't particularly funny or original (I'm sure they will be for people who live in New York City). There's a couple moments when Scafaria sinks to gross-out humor, which is all the more unappealing because we see it coming from so far away. What, after all, is so funny about a drunken girl barfing into a toilet, dropping her gum and cell phone into it, and then...(you're probably able to finish my thought).

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist contains a few nice moments - I liked the yellow Yugo, one character's kindly reaction to a female orgasm, and the tangible locations around New York City. But why settle on being an age-old romantic comedy in which we know the two main characters are perfect for each other before they do? Why not make the conflict more about their misadventures of trying to find their favorite band, all while talking about why they like music so much. That would have been a great opportunity for some interesting dialogue as we listen to and ponder the wonderful soundtrack.



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