Nick and Norah spend a night in shuffle mode
By Jared Peterson
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist depicts a long night’s journey into day, with two teens roaming the streets of New York City and slowly surrendering to their perfect musical chemistry.
It’s strange that Nick and Norah didn’t meet sooner. Nick (Juno’s Michael Cera) is a sweet and beleaguered bass player who’s smarting from a recent breakup with Tris (Alexis Dziena), a pretty but wholly unpleasant girl from a neighboring high school. And Tris, it so happens, is friends with Norah (The 40 Year-Old Virgin’s Kat Dennings), a deeply-feeling doormat who plays den mother to her party-girl friends and adores Nick’s heartfelt mix CDs. One night in the city, Nick and his band cross paths with Norah and her pals, where they discover a common goal: to locate a secret performance by their favorite band. Still hung up in previous entanglements, Nick and Norah share stumbling small talk and deadpan banter, then set off in Nick’s barely functioning Yugo—a fitting metaphor budding companionship only a bump away from a breakdown. The rest of the evening is devoted to turning circles—around town in search of a rock show, and around the mounting signs of a match made in iTunes.
Nick and Norah is a love letter to New York City and its neo-punk scene. With locations and bands ripped from the pages of the Village Voice, it strives to capture the texture and soundscape of a sleepless night in lower Manhattan and environs. (One notable slip in authenticity is the absurdly providential parking the characters manage to find.) The writing is clever and knowing but not overwritten—like a Juno with age-appropriate turns of phrase and a measure of restraint. Especially praiseworthy, comically if not morally, is a subplot involving the drunken wanderings of Norah’s friend Caroline (played expertly by Ari Graynor) which rises above slapstick to become a pitch-perfect rendering of the vagaries of inebriation.
Oddly, in this tale of musical destiny, music has a more limited role than you might think. (Parents looking to learn more about their teenagers’ tastes may leave as clueless as they came.) Bands and songs are more often simply listed, rather than debated or discussed. And while music thrums in the background in nearly every scene, we never hear a full track, let alone witness the magic that happens when someone really listens. But a playlist is only part of the connection between Nick and Norah—what they really share is self-consciousness, sensitivity and a passion for something that promises deliverance from the ordinary.
The playlist of adult content here, though hardly infinite, is broad and liberal—the film unapologetically depicts the escapades of the young and unchaperoned. Many characters drink, swear and demonstrate a distressing familiarity with sex. There’s no nudity, but we’re afforded several glimpses of young ladies’ fine washables. One or two scuffles break out, with a head butt here and a sucker punch there. Nick and Norah, it should be said, are punk-rock goodie-goodies who embrace the music but eschew its traditional excesses. (This hard-core philosophy, it turns out, has a name—“straight edge”—and a surprisingly long history.) But they eventually consummate their union with a sweetly fumbling sexual experience that we don’t see—thanks to a respectfully wandering pan shot—but are forced to listen to. All told, unaccompanied teens may laugh; accompanied teens and their escorts will squirm.
At an October 4th screening, the following films were previewed: Death Note 2, a Japanese action film; The Uninvited, an evil stepmother thriller with the usually nice Elizabeth Banks; Role Models, a men-in-their-thirties-just-can’t-grow-up comedy; Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on the novels and starring designer shoes; The Haunting of Molly Hartley; a supernatural horror film (the preview has the requisite inhuman hands and faces popping suddenly into view); and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a slapstick comedy with Kevin James.
Jared Peterson will overanalyze anything ya got, for a small fee. Sample some of his work below or at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.