Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)


It’s funny how expectations work. I was really excited to see “Juno” last year, especially after all the hype. My disappointment with that film, I initially thought, was due to the hype, but really the more I thought about that movie the more I hated it. Did it deserve that much venom? Probably not, but…maybe. Then recently, I watched “Zack and Miri make a Porno” and I expected a hilarious and insightful Kevin Smith movie, but instead I got an obligatorily vulgar and unfunny Hollywood sap-fest, which of course resulted in my disappointment. That brings me to this movie, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” To look at the trailer for this film, you might think that Myspace produced it, and that it was carefully calculated to hit all the right cultural references to appeal to Generation Y, or whatever, but from where I was sitting it had a much more modest intent.

Nick (Michael Cera) is a sensitive Indie-Rock boy who is obsessed with two things, music and his ex-girlfriend, and he combines the two through a series of embarrassingly pathetic mix CDs, made especially for her. His ex, Tris, has moved on to College guys, and spends her days at High School laughing to her friends about how big of a loser Nick is. One of her friends, the introverted Norah (Kat Dennings), has never met Nick, but she feels a kinship with him because she’s heard most of the mixes made for Tris. Norah feels sorry for Nick because she’s realizes that Tris doesn’t appreciate the CDs.

Nick plays in a band called the Jerkoffs, made up entirely of gay men, with him being the lone exception. Much is made of the fact that the band doesn’t have a drummer, but that doesn’t stop Tris (and her new boyfriend) from heading downtown (New York) to see them on a Friday night. Norah and her chronically drunk best friend, Caroline, show up as well. Through some deception on Norah’s part, Nick and Norah end up meeting, while having to pretend that they’re boyfriend & girlfriend in front of Tris.

Long story short, Nick & Norah go out on the town to get to know one another, while Nick’s band takes Caroline home. Meanwhile Tris is crazy-jealous over the prospect of Nick & Norah dating and begins pining for him out of spite. Everything goes smoothly that night until the Jerkoffs lose Caroline, and Nick loses the interest of Norah by constantly talking about Tris. Will the Jerkoffs find Caroline? Will Nick & Norah fall in love/lust, or will Tris get him back?

Like I said, I think this movie has a fairly modest intent. Since it never wants to be anything more than the tale of 2 teenagers meeting and crushing on one another during the course of one night, that’s all it turns out to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unlike “Zack & Miri,” this film doesn’t have to be outrageously funny or even clever; it merely has to be cute and earnest. Like “Zack & Miri” though, it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel either; it just has to roll along smoothly.

That being said, expectations played a huge role in my enjoyment of this film. For example, I was surprised that a movie with the term “Infinite Playlist” in it didn’t make me feel like I was being bashed over the head with the soundtrack (like “Juno” did). I was also surprised by how adult the film was, not just in sense that it included subjects like homosexuality and “heavy petting” sexuality in it, but that it handled those subjects with an uncanny amount of maturity. That’s especially admirable considering that it’s PG-13 and aimed at pre-teens and teens. I was surprised by how authentic the performances were too. To clarify, the film does have its share of unrealistic dialogue (not unlike “Juno” or “Zack & Miri”), but due to the line delivery, it’s not only believable, but it’s also not obnoxious. Lastly, I was really surprised by how subtle the jokes were. With one exception that I can think of, almost the entire movie was made up of witty one-liners. There was no slapstick and very little in the way of gross-out humor. Again, very strange for a teen-oriented film.

Don’t get me wrong; this movie is far from perfect. For starters, there’s really not much to it, which is to say that if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen the movie (except it’s better than the trailer). Secondly, the movie is not hysterically funny for a Comedy, but for me, that wasn’t a problem. The person I saw it with though felt that due to the understated humor and limited plot-innovation, it was kind of boring. It will be interesting to see how it ages as well, whether the Indie-Pop and references to Amy Winehouse will date poorly or provide a comforting nostalgia? I’m not really sure, but I do think it will find an audience over time, and a fond appreciation.

As anyone who has known me for more than 5 years can tell you, I have a nerdtastic theory about films like “Nick & Norah,” “Juno,” and “Zack & Miri.” It goes something like this: essentially, if I were to be honest, I would give all of these movie 2 ½ stars out of 4. Which would obviously mean that they are all on about the same level of filmmaking, but I would have to take my rating one-step further, just to make my feelings clearer.

To me there is such a thing as a “Positive 2 ½ stars” and a “Negative 2 ½ stars.” A Negative 2 ½ stars is reserved for films that should have been much better than they actually were, and for whatever reason they managed to fuck it up before the credits rolled. On the other hand, I use the Positive 2 ½ stars for films that aren’t really that great, but they have something going for them that makes them worth checking out. They might have an interesting premise, or perhaps they’re just really entertaining. Either way, these films are usually better than they have to be.

By those standards, “Juno” and “Zack & Miri” would be Negative 2 ½ star movies and “Nick & Norah” would be Positive. Got It? Wow, I wrote a lot about “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Who knew?

1 comment:

Micah said...

I really like the positive/negative 2.5 theory... great post.