Haiku Review: ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’

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Another thing that happened in the last five weeks! Consider this PART 6.

nick_and_norah_s_infinite_playlist_movie_posterTeens! Straight edge! New York!
City alight with music
Yet energy nil

Michael Cera’s not the only one in (a state of) arrested development. Hah! You see, both movies (yes, only two) I’ve reviewed for this blog have been teen-centric. The last one, American Teen, even had the word in its title. While hardly stuck in some mid 00’s time-warp (remember those years?), I do consistently find myself drawn to movies and shows that reflect on the experience of growing up. The O.C., Friday Night Lights, Thumbsucker, Stomp The Yard – although derided sometimes as “inconsequential”, these and other stories manage to capture with great accuracy the pains and pleasures of our formative years. And you’ve got to admit –  however fictionalized or exaggerated, there’s something at least a little therapeutic in watching our own experiences and emotions played out on screen.

Unfortunately that’s not so true of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Released October 3rd, Nick & Norah chronicles one enchanted NYC evening in the lives of Jersey teens Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings), strangers and music-lovers on a quest to find a secret show put on by their favorite band. On paper, for me, that’s a slam dunk: awkward teen leads, New York, indie rock. A near perfect mix of quirky elements. Brought to celluloid life, though, by Peter Sollet (Raising Victor Vargas) the movie is somewhat lacking. While not uninspired, the plot is still predictable – chance meeting begets wacky adventure begets “I hate you!” begets “I love you!” – and stretched beyond its limits. What begins as a lithe, funny tale of musical yearning soon loses itself to overindulgent dialogue and undercooked performances. It’s like an episode of Gilmore Girls on Quaaludes.

Really, there are moments in the film that seem culled from a script read-through more than a legitimate take. Cera and Dennings sleepwalk through half their scenes, delivering lines almost inhumanly monotone and interacting as though via hologram. Devoid of chemistry, it’s hard to fall in love with Nick and Norah falling in love. This movie should have energy! It should capture the EXCITEMENT and FUN of being young in the Greatest City in the World™! Only the supporting actors, like Ari Graynor as Norah’s best friend, Caroline, manage to bring the film to life.

The actor's range of expression can only be described as expansive.

The actor's range of expression can only be described as expansive.

Michael Cera is quickly becoming the Bill Murray of his generation, and I hardly mean that as a compliment. Don’t get me wrong – the latter has made poignant comedy an art form all his own, starring in at least five of my favorite movies of all time and contributing, for better or worse, to my obsession with Wes Anderson. The former was dynamite in Arrested Development, Superbad, and even The Diablo Cody Puppet Show! Juno. He’s remarkably talented. What worries me, then, is watching him fall for the same sort of role repetition that has plagued Bill Murray since Rushmore. Stripped of wardrobe choices, is there any real difference between George Michael Bluth and Nick O’Leary? Cera does endearing awkwardness like it’s Shakespeare… but that’s all he’s done. Again and again. Spread your beautiful wings and fly, buddy!

Another dead ingredient: the music. Despite ostensibly being at the heart of this movie, both narratively and thematically, music rarely emerges as anything more than a talking point. Nick and Norah loooooovvvee music. Like, a lot. They love talking about their favorite songs, how those songs make them feel, which artists’ albums rock hardest. You’d have to be deaf to not COMPLETELY and TOTALLY understand just how much music means to the titular couple. They. Love. Music. Somehow, though, that fails to register on anything more than a plot level.

A generation driven to the streets by music. Sing it out loud!

A generation driven to the streets by music. Sing it out loud!

It’s sort of a Catch 22 of the script that Nick and Norah spend their entire night searching for a fictional band. Not just any band, of course, but Where’s Fluffy? – the greatest fictional indie rock band in the history of cinema. They’re built up to Beatles status over the course of the film, idolized and lusted after and placed on a skinny jeans pedestal so tight there’s barely room to fit. So by the time we SPOILER ALERT see them in Act Three and they DON’T play music END SPOILER ALERT… well, it’s profoundly disappointing. The point, of course, is that Nick and Norah have discovered a love for each other that can REPLACE their band obsession, but never hearing the band is unacceptable to an audience primed for the Second Coming.

I get that Nick and Norah’s excellent adventure is an urban fantasy, a dreamy tale with little basis in teenage reality. I wasn’t expecting Scorsese-style urban realism (though the NYC location shooting was surprisingly strong) or any deep insight into the human condition, but I still left disappointed. Teen movies DO have a responsibility to emotional truth, to conveying something authentic no matter what the plot or premise. This could have been a really solid romantic comedy, but tepidly made and with little self-awareness just winds up falling short. Wait this one out.

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5 Responses to “Haiku Review: ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’”

  1. Mimi Says:

    I was so disappointed that they didn’t actually show who Where’s Fluffy was. It actually pissed me off that Nick and Norah just left without watching the band. I mean, COME ON?? Their love doesn’t have to replace the love for music. The two loves are complementary.

    I was worried that there would be movie fans roaming around LES, going on some sort of NIck and Norah’s tour (the way SATC fans flock to Magnolia and Sushi Samba). But, LES is pretty dunzo (http://guestofaguest.com/nyc-nightlife/is-the-les-dunzo/). Still, I have to admit that I was still entertained by the number of NYC music hipster references they were able to squeeze in.

    In other news, I suspect that the movie has given Bishop Allen some limelight. Their recent NYC show was sold out, but I have not voluntarily listened to any of their music in over 2 years.

  2. DJ Steve Says:

    I only saw the trailers but I wondered why Michael Cera was chasing after Norah when the other girl, his ex, was much more attractive

  3. JES Says:

    You guys do great movie reviews. There’s gotta be a way to derive some income from that.

  4. Henning Says:

    Mimi – I totally agree. Not only is it completely unbelievable that the band’s TWO BIGGEST FANS OMG would miss their performance (and really, why did they need to leave? Love and music aren’t exactly mutually exclusive), it’s also just poor form to dangle the band – fictional or otherwise – in front of the audience for 100 minutes then not deliver. That ain’t right.

    Still, It seems like the filmmakers did their homework when it came to recreating the LES scene. I’m not all that familiar with the area (there was this one time I went to Arlene’s Grocery!), but everything rings pretty authentic. I’ll take your Bishop Allen proclamation as a warning and try to avoid them.

    Steve – Nick’s ex is played by the girl from Broken Flowers who fully flashed Bill Murray. Murray-Cera connection?

    JES – Thanks! With any luck we’ll have 007, Zack & Miri, and Synecdoche, NY up after the weekend. As for getting paid… donations are always accepted. I tried contacting The Village Voice last week to no avail.

  5. Why Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy” Falls Short of Modern Feminism « Lifting Fog Says:

    […] the most fiercely contested Lifting Fog post… ever. Even more so than when Henning derided a harmless teen flick for not being oscar-worthy. Let me say first, that if you are someone who doesn’t think women […]

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