Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist Review

Are Nick and Norah the Romeo and Juliet of the iPod generation? Luke McNaney plugs in his headphones and finds out. Kick out the jams!

In Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, we have the first teen movie for the iPod generation. Sure, there have been a number of hip and ‘edgy’ indie takes on the genre in the past few years, all with the obligatory cool-as soundtrack, but never has playlist compatibility been so integral to our heroes’ story.

The titular twosome are both New York-dwelling high school seniors on the verge of college. Nick (Michael Cera) is attempting to get over his ex Tris (Alexis Dziena) by sending her one emotional mixed CD at a time. Realising that the recent dumpee needs some help in the process, his bandmates force Nick out of the house to play a gig on the same night that his favourite band, Where’s Fluffy?, are playing a secret location in the city. It just so happens that Norah (Kat Dennings) is also a huge fan and secret recipent of Nick’s CDs, having rescued them from the bin her schoolmate Tris promptly deposited them. Needless to say, the two teens share a fateful evening, wherein the search for Where’s Fluffy becomes secondary to the location of Norah’s drunk best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and the course of true love and shared music tastes.

The timing of its release is perhaps the ace hidden up Nick & Norah’s sleeve (and, if you’re wondering, that sleeve probably belongs to a baggy hoody with ‘The Ramones’ scrawled across it), offering welcome respite during this year’s awards season; sure, Revolutionary Road and The Reader may be more accomplished films but they’re hardly easy-going flicks to enjoy on a Saturday night. Although it’s a slight piece, it gets by on its sheer youthful energy and the charm of its up-and-coming cast. Yes, we have seen Michael Cera do the awkward, deer-eyed teen schtick in everything from Arrested Development to Juno but, although it has become a signature role for him, he is the master and it has not yet worn thin. In Dennings, we have a perfect foil who has a similar capability for both ‘wise-ass’ and ’emotionally vulnerable’ as Cera’s prior onscreen love interest, Ellen Page.

Unsurprisingly, it’s nowhere near as good as Juno, failing to revel in delicious teen-speak and taking us down some fairly predictable routes in Nick’s battered old car, but it does share the superior film’s warm-hearted intentions. The characters, save for the pair’s dastardly exes, are all very ‘nice’ people you might wanna hang with in NYC; in Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron’s bandmates, we perhaps even have the first non-stereotypical gay representations in a mainstream teen flick. Scene-stealing Ari Graynor is a hoot – and scarily authentic – as Norah’s drunken mess of a pal, although a running gag involving chewing gum feels like it’s been lifted from a Farrelly Brothers’ movie and is jarring whenever eluded to here.

The plot is convoluted of course, the timeframe of one evening giving it the feel of a Before Sunrise or In Search of a Midnight Kiss for teenyboppers. Thankfully, despite the odd detour and high-speed band van chase, the busy night never feels so chaotic as to be entirely unbelievable and gives director Peter Sollett the chance to show off a trendy, small-scale New York rarely seen in the movies. There’s a last-act revelation, concerning Norah’s father, that has been eluded to in most reviews and leads to a sweet but clumsily scripted romantic culmination for our two leads.

Even if adolescent sweethearts aren’t your thing, you might get off on the tunes, doubly important to a film that has ‘playlist’ in the title. Predictably hot young propositions such as We Are Scientists and Vampire Weekend share soundtrack space with more established and eccentric oldies Richard Hawley and Devendra Banhart; indeed, we’re even treated to an entirely pointless cameo from the bearded folkie. In between, there’s room for all manner of eclectic audio treats that may prompt young Nick and Norah-likes to speedily download back catalogues.

And that’s who this film is for, after all. Nick & Norah, no matter how much they claim to like The Cure, won’t change the world of any viewer over the age of eighteen. For Year 11 NME devotees though, this may just be the cure to iPod-free Romeo & Juliet. Even as a detached older viewer, it’s refreshing to see an attempt to create young characters akin to believable human beings. I just worry about the amount of emotionally-charged mixed CDs that may enter this world as a result of heavy-hearted emo boys catching this at the multiplex.

Luke McNaney

Updated: Feb 01, 2009

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