Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Review
Steve Martin recently hit out against the slew of negative reviews directed against him and his most recent film, The Pink Panther 2, arguing that comedy is simply not a critics’ medium. Sitting down to write this review, I think I know what he means. The problem is that, because so much of how successful comedy is – whether it be a feature film, a stand-up act, or even a single joke – boils down to the manner in which it is delivered, it becomes very difficult to write anything meaningful about it. In the case of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, what we ultimately have is a relatively unremarkable concept that doesn’t amount to very much on paper, but which, thanks to the chemistry between its two young leads and their pitch-perfect delivery of the material, amounts to one of the most unashamedly enjoyable films of 2008 and by far the best comedy aimed at teenagers since Juno.
Based on the book of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, the film depicts the events of a single night, in which a chance encounter between recently-jilted Nick (Michael Cera) and world-weary rich girl Norah (Kat Dennings) sends the pair of teenage misfits on a jaunt across New York City to locate their favourite band, Where’s Fluffy?, as well as Norah’s AWOL and extremely intoxicated friend Caroline (Ari Graynor). In doing so, they discover a shared sense of disconnection from their peers and a love of all things musical. Aw, bless.
That’s about it, really, and yet the relatively lightweight nature of the narrative doesn’t ultimately matter. As mentioned earlier, this is primarily down to the interplay between Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, who embody their characters so perfectly that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the wide range of emotions they experience over the course of their night on the town, even if, as it is for me, the New York alternative music scene and the teenage angst in which the pair are embroiled are completely alien to you. Cera has, of course, played the awkward-but-lovable misfit before, most recently in Juno, but he does a better job of it here and is this time graced with a script that makes his character more three-dimensional. Norah, meanwhile, is not a million miles away from Juno MacGuff herself, particularly in terms of her often cynical outlook on the world, but she is rather more likeable and, dare I say it, Dennings’ performance is superior to that of Ellen Page.
I’m informed that the novel on which the film is based was penned in a relatively unplanned, back-and-forth manner with its two writers each taking it in turns to add a segment before handing it off to the other. As such, it’s actually rather impressive that screenwriter Lorene Scafaria and director Peter Sollett have managed to boil the material down to a concise 90 minutes, even when taking into account the numerous subplots which provide a backdrop to Nick and Norah’s main arc. With films such as this and Juno, both of which treat their characters and audience with an unprecedented degree of respect, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that teen-oriented comedies have come of age and have finally begun to escape from the shadows of the American Pie films and their cavalcade of lewd successors. Not that there aren’t any gross-out moments here – there’s one particular scene involving a vomit-filled lavatory, a mobile phone and some chewing gum that would seem more at home in, oh, say, Road Trip – but by and large the film errs on the side of good taste. In fact, it may even be a little too virtuous – the original novel was far more colourful in terms of its language and description of sexual activity, with a lot of this having to be excised thanks to the film’s strictly PG-13 nature. (For instance, Nick’s band, originally entitled “The Fuck-Offs”, becomes “The Jerk-Offs”, which is funny in its own right but somehow less cutting.)
I’m not attempting to suggest that this film achieves perfection. A number of the secondary characters are drawn only in the broadest possible sense (Nick and Norah’s respective exes, both unrelentingly obnoxious in their own way, are a case in point), while the cynic in me (and I’m afraid I am a rather cynical fellow) found certain aspects of the burgeoning romance between the two leads a little too sickly sweet, despite Norah’s acerbically dry wit. We even get the fairly predictable “couple consummate their relationship and in the process girl experiences first orgasm” moment, albeit punctuated by a rather amusing sight gag involving the volume meters in a recording booth. Despite these minor caveats, though, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is by far the most enjoyable film I’ve come across recently. With the upcoming Academy Awards populated largely by “serious”, “heavy” material, it’s often easy to overlook films which set out simply to entertain their audiences and make them feel that little bit better about themselves and the world.
Blu-ray Disc Presentation
Presented in 1080P in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Sony Pictures’ AVC encode is very good, albeit with the caveat that the allocated bit rate appears to have been somewhat inadequate given the film’s naturally grainy look, coupled with a lot of jittery, hand-held camerawork. As a result, a smattering of minor compression artefacts can be glimpsed on several occasions, most notably during the opening credits, where some fairly intrusive mosquito noise is visible around the text. The rest of the film generally fares better, although freeze-framing does show up the extent to which the encoder struggled with the material. The overall bit rate – slightly over 40 Mbit/sec – sounds pretty high on paper, although in reality much of this goes to the three Dolby TrueHD audio tracks, one Dolby Digital 5.1 track and two 2.0 commentaries. That leaves around 26 Mbit/sec for the video itself, which should have been enough, but the amount of mosquito noise on display suggests that the encoding technicians were going for maximum efficiency rather than maximum quality. It's a nice-looking image overall, but it’s a shame it doesn’t look perfect, as I believe it could have done.
For audio, meanwhile, we get a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, which mainly serves to benefit the array of licensed songs that populate the mix. As a result of the near constant barrage of music, the surrounds are active on a fairly regular basis; otherwise, the mix is largely forward-focused. Clarity of dialogue never becomes a problem despite having to fight with the music for attention.
We also get a cavalcade of dubs – French and Portuguese TrueHD, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 640 Kbps) – as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Dutch. French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch are provided for the majority of the extras.
All of the extras from the day-and-date standard definition DVD release have been replicated here:
- Audio Commentary: This track features director Peter Sollett, screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, and Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, authors of the original novel. Focusing primarily on the adaptation process and the differences between the book and the film, it moves along at a reasonably brisk clip and proves to be rather entertaining to listen to, thanks mainly to the diverse array of perspectives brought to the table by the various participants. In particular, the inclusion of the original novelists adds a unique angle to the discussion, offering us a perspective of the adaptation process that isn’t generally explored when it comes to film adaptations.
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes: Nine additional scenes are provided, many of which actually turn out to be reels showing multiple takes or improvisations of the same material. (Running time: 09:14)
- Outtakes: The usual array of actors flubbing their lines or cracking up mid-scene. (Running time: 04:12)
- A Nick & Norah Puppet Show by Kat Dennings: Getting my vote for most unexpected and most amusing extra on the disc, this segment is an ode to Kat Dennings’ roots as a blogger and later maker of YouTube videos. Here, she compresses the entire film into five minutes, retelling the story with the aid of paper cut-out puppets. All films should have one of these. (Running time: 05:12)
- Ari Graynor’s Video Diary: A Look Behind the Scenes: Here, Graynor (who plays Caroline in the film) provides us with her own personal look at the making of the film. Not particularly noteworthy, but amusing nonetheless. (Running time: 03:56)
- Storyboard Animations: Animatics are provided of two scenes (the opening sequence and Nick and Norah’s first meeting), consisting of storyboard panels accompanied by temporary voiceovers. These can be played with or without commentary by Peter Sollett and editor Myron Kerstein. (Running time: 09:07)
- Faux Interview with Michael Cera, Kat Dennings and Eddie Kaye Thomas: Here, Thomas, who plays Jesus in the film, stages an impersonation of one of those EPK-style interviews with the film’s two stars. I’ve always felt such things to be ripe for parody, but unfortunately this one doesn’t go anywhere.(Running time: 02:50)
- Peter Sollett’s Photo Album: A collection of reasonably high resolution photographs, mainly of the cast, taken during the production.
We also get a music video of the song “Middle Management”, performed by Bishop Allen, from the film, in addition to previews for various other Blu-ray releases from Sony. There’s also a thoroughly useless Digital Copy of the film to bump up the price tag. Oh well, another drinks mat to add to my ever growing collection.
Blu-ray Exclusive Extras
In addition to the above extras, the BD release offers the following content not found on the DVD version:
- CineChat: The basic idea of this patently ridiculous feature is that, if your Blu-ray player is connected to the Internet, and if you can find sufficient like-minded people, you can engage in a primitive form of instant messaging while the film plays. Yeah, good luck formulating sentences on the fly with your remote control. (Requires a Profile 2.0 player)
- Nick & Norah’s Interactive Playlist: In addition to providing traditional pop-up trivia facts as the film plays, this feature also allows you to “grab” songs from the film as they are heard and formulate a playlist to email to your friends, which I’m sure will be of interest to someone, somewhere in the world. I think. (Requires a Profile 2.0 player)
- Telestrator Commentary: The only genuinely worthwhile bonus feature exclusive to the BD release, this one takes the form of a traditional audio commentary featuring Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor and an almost silent Peter Sollett, augmented by the various participants drawing primitive diagrams over the image in a manner similar to what you may have seen on the animator commentary tracks on some of the Simpsons DVD releases. While this “telestrating” gets old rather quickly (there are only so many times you can make attempting to draw moustaches on the actors seem amusing), the track itself is very enjoyable. It’s more lightweight in nature than the director/writer commentary also found on the DVD version, but entertaining in its own right, provided you’re in a buoyant mood and can tolerate the often raucous nature of the conversation. (Requires a Profile 1.1 player)
Charming and unabashedly entertaining, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist may seem like an unexpected choice for one of my favourite films of 2008, but, truth be told, it made more of an impression on me than many of the year’s supposedly more “important” contenders. Sony’s Blu-ray release is largely excellent, with a decent A/V presentation and a fine array of extras.
9 out of 10
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10
Last updated: 24/05/2018 01:35:49