Sunday, October 5, 2008
A Frank Review of "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (2008)
The Short Version? Two music geeks fall for each other on a wild night in search of their favorite band.
What Is It? Teen Hipster Romantic Comedy
Who's In It? Michael Cera, Kat Dennings
Should I See It? Maybe.
My two best friends and I have been having trouble getting together recently, what with the hurricane and clean-up and such. One called me Friday wanting to see about finally catching "Choke" before it disappeared from local screens (five and counting.) I called my other friend, who told me he was more interested in catching "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." I said "wha-at?" I'd seen the trailer, and thought it looked nice enough for a chick flick sort of thing, but more of a DVD/cable deal for me. Still, I called friend #1 back, who also got excited about the prospect of seeing "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." He thought it had a nice John Hughes retro vibe going, and figured we could catch "Choke" sometime the same day, so I agreed. It was also a chance for one of them to bring his fiance along, so swell.
I remember the first (and only) time I saw "Garden State," which I liked better when it was sexy and titled "The Graduate." I guess it was as alternative as you can get while carefully following the blueprint of a 35 year old movie, down to the big nosed schmuck lead and updating Simon & Garfunkle with The Shins. Oh wait, the soundtrack actually had Simon & Garfunkle, as well. Like "Garden State," "Infinite Playlist" soundtrack is full of twee, navel-gazing retreads that tend to run together, best enjoyed as background noise during a make out session and/or the plotting of your suicide. Maybe its the context, though. Also like "Garden State," "Infinite Playlist" follows a formula, this time being that of '80s "one crazy night" teen movies, but far less faithfully.
In fact, the movie seems disinterested in its own plot, going through familiar motions as it must. No one invests in it, and it proves a distraction from what works about the movie: acting as a extended video for the bittersweet indie pop soundtrack. You've seen movies with a hard rock theme that try to level explosions in time with the beat, right? Well, this is the precious oughts equivalent. You've got the lead actors trying to appear as unaffected, introspective and clumsily affectionate as possible in a sea of bullshit and stereotypes. Nick and Norah define themselves by their love of a pretty specific type of music, to the degree of actualizing the music with their beings. They're just going through the motions the plot dictates on their way to mooning over one another to their best loved sounds.
Michael Cena plays Nick, in theory, but as far as I can tell he's playing Michael Cena. If that's your thing, here's a delivery. Kat Dennings plays Norah, and seeing as I haven't seen her in much, I'll assume she nailed the part. She certainly had my attention, tapping into my teenage love of Winona Ryder to great effect. She's very attractive, and Norah is very, very my type, which means I totally understand the girls crushing on Cena giving him a total pass for sleepwalking through his part. Unfortunately, even though characters tell us Norah ain't so hot, especially compared to Nick's trifling ex and party girl best friend, the film felt the need to handicap every other actress to insure your eyes never leave Dennings. The lovely Alexis Dziena from "Broken Flowers" is tarted up like a "Pink Lady" after her first divorce from a T-Bird, while Ari Graynor (Meadow's bumpkin roommate from "The Sopranos") spends the majority of her screen time on the verge of puking, or even more heinous activities. There are some other guys in the cast as well, but they're either playing well-intentioned fairy godmothers or forgettable douchebags, so Cena is himself insulated from negative comparisons.
You might think I hated the movie from my tone, but it's entirely agreeable. I joined the audience for some chuckles, and everyone in my party was pleased with the flick. Just don't expect to carry anything out with you after the show. I'd say "Playlist" is more "200 Cigarettes" than "16 Candles," but "Cigs" was comparatively weighty. I understand this movie was based on a young adult book with a wealth of cursing, where thanks to a PG-13 rating, there is none on film. There is, however, an off-screen teenage fingerbang, which makes me think maybe our nation's priorities are finally moving in the right direction.
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