Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two People Find Their Self-Worth In Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist!

The Good: Interesting characters, Humor, Pacing
The Bad: Predictable plot, Obvious acting
The Basics: A fun movie featuring a very realistic view of young relationships, Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is funny and has a decent theme.

Right up front, Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is above average, but not by much. There is enough in the film - especially the way it left me feeling good, even after an hour after watching it - that I don't begrudge it the seven out of ten I am giving it. That said, there is enough in it that I was less impressed by that makes me think when the buzz (from the movie) wears off, I'll be wishing I had not let a coin decide the rating's fate.

That said, Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is a fun romantic comedy in exactly the same way a Kevin Smith comedy is fun. Smith tends to disguise something meaningful as far as friendships and relationships under a usually placid facade and barrage of dick and fart jokes. Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist does not have that as much as it uses some pretty juvenile gross-out humor (anyone who likes chewing gum will likely be unable to for at least a month after seeing this film). This movie is based upon a novel and this review is for the film only; I have never read the novel and thus I shall not compare or offer analysis on the quality (or lack thereof) of the adaptation.

Norah is a high school senior who has been introduced to Nick through the mix c.d.s he makes for his ex-girlfriend, Tris. Tris is an acquaintance of Norah's and so completely disregards Nick's attempts to reconcile with Tris that Norah is forced to rescue his mixes from the garbage can at school. One Friday night in New York City, one of Norah's favorite bands - Where's Fluffy? - is playing a secret show. This is the same night that Nick's band, the Jerk-offs, is playing in the City. Norah and her friend Caroline catch the Jerk-offs' show and when Tris shows up, Nick is shaken and when she spites Norah, Norah desperately grabs Nick and claims that she came with him.

Nick's gay bandmates offer to take the drunken Caroline home in order to try to get Nick and Norah together (with the aid of a push-up bra), mostly because they disapprove of Tris that much. While Nick and Norah begin to search New York City for clues as to where the secret show for Where's Fluffy? will be take place, they converse, flirt, fight and ultimately overcome obstacles and figure out who they want to be as opposed to who they have been.

Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is fun, but what works best is that for a film that is so utterly predictable - this is basically a road movie - it manages to keep the viewer guessing. In their first in-person meeting, Norah kisses Nick in order to establish the facade for Tris that they are dating. In that kiss, Norah begins to melt into Nick in a way that seems to indicate that this is going to be a love-at-first-kiss type movie. Fortunately, the film decides to go with a little more realism than that and both characters withdraw, gently feel out and run into a great many obstacles, most of which are within themselves.

That is perhaps the most clever aspect of Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist; both protagonists have serious issues and hang-ups that make a sudden change in their romantic lives difficult, if not completely unrealistic, for them. One kiss from Norah does not wake Nick up to the idea that there are other women out there; he remains largely hung up on Tris. People do tend toward the familiar and Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist captures that well.

The movie also captures well the sense and sensibilities of young love. In this regard, Tris is actually a remarkably realistic character. In addition to simply coveting what she does not have, the flirtatious way she tries to interest Nick is both very juvenile and very real. Her sense of exhibitionism and the idea that in her mindset that might make things right between her and Nick is very realistic for a young woman who is still figuring out relationships and sexuality. And it is easy to empathize with her when Nick leaves her stranded. She is not the most likable character, but she is not as monolithic as she initially appears.

Similarly, Norah is not monolithic either. Doors open for this young woman all night and it doesn't take much in the way of observation skills to catch this. The film smartly explains this and the payoff is worth not ruining in a review. In fact, the only truly monolithic character is Nick. Nick is a sensitive and pretty solidly "straight edge" guy who is comfortable enough with himself and his friends to be the only heterosexual in an otherwise gay band. But, he has a serious blindspot and that is that he is attached to Tris. The thing is, it is hard to argue that he grows in the course of the movie. Instead, he opens up to redirecting his heart and his love. The cynic and realist in me notes that there is nothing particularly more stable and beneficial illustrated in Norah than with Tris; she is just a different type of risk relationship (one who is unlikely to cheat on him, at least).

Because I have mentioned it a few time, it is worth noting that Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist presents a pretty positive view of homosexuals. Accompanying Nick, Norah and the drunken Caroline are three young, hot gay men who - it is refreshing to see in American cinema - are not used simply as the butt of jokes or mocked. In fact, they are in some ways the most actualized characters in the film and they work well for providing humor and a chorus to Nick and Norah's adventure.

As far as the acting, goes, Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is a tough sell for me. The movie is inarguably well cast. Kat Dennings, whom I was only familiar with from her performance in Charlie Bartlett, plays another quasi-outsider who has a depth and maturity to her for her age in Norah. Norah and Susan (her character from Charlie Bartlett) bear a number of similarities most notably they are infused with Dennings' confidence and smile. Note to writers and directors utilizing Kat Dennings in the future: Stop having her tell audiences that she's not attractive! Kat Dennings has been condemned to play characters who think that they aren't attractive and there is something patronizing about seeing a self-depricating Hollywood-beautiful young woman in pretty much the choicest demographic there is. Kat Dennings is stunning and part of that is the actress's confidence, so lay off the "I'm so ugly" b.s. That said, Dennings does have some quiet scenes where she masterfully plays wounded and unconfident in such a way that it actually makes the viewer question which way the film will ultimately go.

And while I can forgive any acting/typecasting issues with Kat Dennings (largely due to the fact that she has not appeared in much that I have yet seen!), Michael Cera's performance is all casting. Michael Cera is the perfect awkward, articulate, sensitive guy on film. He played that as Paulie in Juno, after a long string of other, similar performances. This is the one note that directors want Cera to play and at this point, he is not acting, he's just presenting different lines. I'll be impressed when I see Cera on screen playing an unsympathetic serial killer. Seriously, that is the extreme we need to see Cera go to to suggest that he can act now. The best that can be said of his performance in Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist is that he is certainly a master of his niche.

That said, anyone who likes a good romantic comedy about young love will find something to like in Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist. It is laugh-out-loud funny in places and it does have a strong and worthwhile theme. People younger than myself will probably like the soundtrack as well, but for me it was simply mood music that helped enhance the characters.

For other works with Jay Baruchel, please visit my reviews of:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
How To Train Your Dragon
She's Out Of My League
Million Dollar Baby


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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