Whenever I hear the word “quirky” being used to describe a movie, I can’t help but shudder. Ever since the success of last year’s Juno, screenwriters all across Hollywood have been competing for “Most Quirky Screenplay,” which usually means throwing around dialogue that sounds like no one and playing music that no one listens to. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which is certainly molded from the same piece of clay, manages to stand out from the bunch by being, quite simply, genuine. This is about as innocent and well-intentioned as teen movies get any more.
Nick (Cera) is miserable. He’s hopelessly lovesick over the girl who just dumped him, Tris (Dziena), and as the film opens he’s leaving her a beyond-awkward, marathon of a voicemail. He plays bass in a Queens, New York band called The Jerkoffs, and his ex manages to rub it in even more at his gig. Norah (Dennings) is similarly down, but escapes to Nick’s gig with her friend, the perpetually drunk Caroline (Graynor).Norah is without a boyfriend, and in an effort to prove to Tris that she does have one, she turns to Nick to see if he’ll be her boyfriend for five minutes. That five minutes turns into a night of music, bonding, and New York City.
In this time of endlessly downbeat cinema, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist does provide a well-earned shot of happiness. It effortlessly harks back to the innocent days of being a teenager, and even today’s teens will likely be taken aback by the size of the film’s heart. Director Peter Sollett lets his actors and settings do the work, and he has fine examples of both to work with. The screenplay, by Lorene Scafaria (working from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan), is well-paced, though a few bouts of largely out-of-place gross-out humor miss the mark and play down to the audience.
Michael Cera and Kat Dennings own this movie, and their chemistry is superb. I’m not sure how much longer Cera can get away with the playing the awkward, shy dork, but he continues to excel. Dennings, with her erratic confidence and dry humor, is an excellent compliment to Cera. Filmgoers of all ages will be able to identify with their personality traits, not to mention they are both extremely likeable. Ari Graynor, who plays the completely trashed Caroline, also deserves a mention simply for possibly being the most disgusting drunk in the history of cinema.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist resurrects an innocence that I thought was forever gone in this day and age. The film’s final thirty minutes are masterful, and it’s a shame that it gets sidetracked a bit in the previous two acts by some unnecessarily vile gross-out gags. This is Nick and Norah’s story, and taken alone, it’s a story well worth experiencing.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.
Theatrical Release: October 3, 2008
Directed by: Peter Sollett
Written by: Lorene Scafaria. Based upon the novel by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan.
Cast: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena