Friday, February 13, 2009

Movie #18: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

There's something about NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST that feels like the anti-JUNO to me. Whereas Diablo Cody's overrated dialog and attempts at youthful sentiment in JUNO struck me as smug and often downright patronizing to its intended audience, NICK AND NORAH feels more sincere in its picture of two people fumbling towards first love in the prime of their youth. It may not perfectly match your first time, or my first time, but director Peter Sollet, working off a script by Lorene Scafaria based on the popular novel, seems more intent on conveying the small gestures, the quiet moments where things come together, and wrap it up in a loving tribute to a New York City that glows with music and lights and coffee.

The story isn't really about anything; it's just enough of a scenario to allow us the fun of watching Nick and Norah explore their relationship. Michael Cera plays Nick, recently heartbroken bass player player for The Jerk-Offs, begrudginly heading into the city to play a gig and hopefully catch a secret performance by Where's Fluffy, an almost mythical band that Nick (and Norah, as we come to discover) adore that acts as the MacGuffin of the picture. Through a series of coincidence he meets up with Norah at the club he's playing at. She's trying to keep her friend Caroline from getting utterly wasted (something she fails to do) and just enjoy the music, but the hurdles set up by the film demand that she engages in a "meet cute" with Nick and propel the film to its satisfying conclusion.

It's refreshing to see Cera make some small but noticeable adjustments to the character he's been playing in a number of his past films. His Nick is still the essential shy good boy, but there's a new-found sense of confidence and grace in his movements, his delivery. He doesn't come across as eternally lost to the circumstances of what's going on around him. As Norah, Kat Dennings knows exactly when to play the giggling schoolgirl, and when to play the wounded, older girl who's a little tired of simply being her age. It's a great part, and that smile instantly draws you in. Their conversations fall over the place at first: when two people are just beginning to feel each other out, the conversation necessarily starts off broad. But as the movie progresses and they begin to connect, the talk becomes intimate, and the language becomes shared. It's one of the many points of the film that feel true, even if it isn't all that factual.

The rest of the cast beautifully supports the leads, especially Ari Graynor as the good-natured but way too intoxicated Caroline. She another plot device to draw Nick and Norah together, but she's a wonderful plot device all the same. Same for indie rock scene in New York, which comes alive under the direction of Peter Sollet to become a character in its own right. This the New York I had the fortune to see when going out with my much-younger friends, and it's captured perfectly. NICK AND NORAH'S PLAYLIST is that rare, sweet film that yearns to impress without resorting to imitate.

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