Thursday, September 10, 2009

DVD Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

"There is little suspense generated over whether or not Nick and Nora will eventually realize the degree to which they are mutually attracted, but then in a movie like this it’s almost always more about the journey to discovery than what happens when the couple in question finally gets there, and when that journey is rendered with the kind of believable, character-driven humor in evidence here audiences tend to forgive the obviousness of the narrative trajectory more easily than when they’re beaten into submission, as in, say, the average Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey rom-com."

-- Dennis Cozzalio from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

Anyone who is a music fan can think back to that one album as teenagers that defined a season or an event or even a night. I can pinpoint exactly what album makes me think of those summer nights staying up until 4am with friends, thinking about all the ways the mix cd’s we played from my car were the acting as the soundtrack to our lives. It’s a strong feeling of nostalgia, and I still connect with music that way. I can think of exactly the song I was listening to when I decided to ask my wife out on our first date (Minus the Bear’s “This Aint a Surfin’ Movie”), and countless others that have defined key moments in my life. And so it is with Nick and Norah. Two people who meet cute, and to no ones surprise, as the quote above by the invaluable Dennis Cozzalio states, end up together after a long, memorable night. Here’s a film about teenagers starring two people who look like teenagers, talk like teenagers (at least the type of teens they’re playing – New York hipsters), and fumble around like teenagers. Damn this is a refreshing movie that in the wake of John Hughes’ death gives me hope that there’s still a director out there who understands what a teen romantic comedy should be.

The director of the film Peter Sollett also directed the much underrated teenage drama Raising Victor Vargas in 2002. It’s obvious he understands that in real life these teenage character types don’t exist within the realm of Hollywood plot conventions. Teens don’t look like they do in movies like She’s All That. What makes Nick and Norah so great is that it understands this very basic principle, but also understands the idiosyncrasies and specifics of the subculture that Nick and Norah exist in. Words like Straight Edge and Emo get tossed around, and Sollett understands why one term is spoken with pride – a kind of badge of honor – and the other contempt; that’s the nature of the indie/hispster culture, and this film gets it exactly right.

The film has a sense of authenticity about the New York hipster scene, too. Shot entirely on location I really felt like the charm of the New York night was palpable. It’s the perfect backdrop, the New York nightscape, for these two likable characters. It’s almost like a mixture of a calm, teen version of After Hours – with its beautiful New York night photography – and Before Sunrise with the way two charming characters interact intelligently throughout the night, ending with a tender (albeit happier in this film) moment as the sun rises on New York.

The music never felt superfluous or showy; never letting the audience in on how COOL the soundtrack is – rather, to my surprise, the soundtrack acts as a perfect accompaniment just like the aforementioned music I was speaking about in my own life. I was never aware of the music in the film (except for when a Band of Horses song came on…see I’m cool, I may not know all of the bands on the soundtrack, but I know one of them!), and that’s the way it should be when we’re talking about music that defines moments in our life.

Michael Cera as Nick isn’t as annoyingly insecure in this film as he is in Superbad or Juno. I’m not saying that Cera doesn’t do that well, but it’s a tad grating at times to watch him stumble and stutter through every film he’s in where has interactions with the opposite sex. Kat Dennings who played Catherine Keener’s daughter in The 40-Year Old Virgin, is fantastic as Norah. She has a way with people in New York, and although we suspect she’s the daughter of someone important, it’s not until it’s revealed who her father is that we understand a little bit more about her and her love of music. They both have great chemistry together as Sollett lets them feel out scenes instead of rushing into wacky situation after wacky situation, and then expecting us to buy Nick and Norah’s romance at the end of the film. Nick and Norah aren’t caricatures (maybe some of the periphery characters are, but they don’t distract too much from the main story) and that’s what’s so damn refreshing about this movie. Here’s a movie that takes teenagers seriously.

There are some tender, quiet moments where we see that these teenagers are intelligent (they talk of Ivy schools after high school, it’s so refreshing to have a movie about teenagers where the characters are intelligent), and there’s a moment when Norah mentions a bit about her religion, and something she takes from it – and Nick’s response is exactly what she needed to hear: acknowledging and intelligent in response. What a beautiful thing it is when filmmakers take teenagers seriously.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
is a perfect example of how you should never judge a movie by its trailer. It's also the perfect example of the type of film I love being surprised by as I happen upon it late at night. Here was a film, fresh off the release of Juno, which looked like nothing but a copycat of the smash indie hit; it shares the same male lead, it has hip indie tunes on its soundtrack, and a super-cutesy title sequence. I was really expecting to hate this movie. However, Dennis Cozzalio of the great Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule gave a rousing endorsement of the film back in February. So, I thought I would give the film a shot. I put off watching the film, completely forgetting about it, until I saw it on Starz the other day and DVR’d it. What a wonderful, beautiful surprise this film is. I echo Dennis’ sentiments and really hope you seek out the DVD.

This got me thinking: What movies can you think of that you've just happened upon on cable that have totally surprised you with their warmth, depth, or just overall goodness?


  1. Hmm, might have to give this one a try. I guess I just assumed it was some hipster indie thing that I'd end up disliking. I do remember the trailer and that didn't help matters at all in convincing me it was worth a shot.

    I can't think of anything in answer to your last question. I watch plenty of crap on TV, but none of it meets that criteria -- the good movies I expect to be good and the bad ones hold up their end of the bargain as well. There's only so much to expect when you are watching Bring It On: In It To Win It :P

  2. Troy:

    Give it a shot. It's a pretty charming movie. Tricia would like it, too.

  3. Nice review. I'm getting a little tired of Michael Cera's schtick but I do like Kat Dennings. She was wonderful in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and it's nice to see her in a leading role. I will have to check this sucker out. It kinda looks like BEFORE SUNRISE for the emo-generation.

  4. It kinda looks like BEFORE SUNRISE for the emo-generation.

    An astute observation, J.D. Although I would posit that it's better than Before Sunrise.

    I hope you check it out soon.

  5. Better?!!! Oooh, that sounds like heresy to me! ; )

  6. I really liked the ending to Before Sunrise, but overall the movie just doesn't do much for me. I know, I know...I'm in the minority on that one.

    Ethan Hawke kind of bothers me though...and I think it's because he was married to Uma Thurman, has authored a few books, produced a play, and written and directed films....seriously, he's done it all, and it's kind of annoying, hehe.