Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Like it or not, indie is slowly becoming the new mainstream. Little did early online worshippers of afro-punk-reggae-pop (clearly, the more descriptors, the indie-er) band, Vampire Weekend, see the band’s first album debuting among Billboard’s top 20. Now their song appears in the soundtrack of a major motion picture, alongside the likes of We are Scientists, Band of Horses and other bands that the cool kids listen to. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is an offspring of this new indie generation, eagerly embracing the concept of musical soulmates: two people who absolutely belong together because, oh my god, their iPod playlists are totally the same.
“Nick and Norah” tries to be everything at once—hipster yet still mainstream-friendly, fast-paced, intimate, profound, realistic yet dream-like. Unfortunately, the resulting concoction produces the effect of bland nothingness.
The premise runs as follows: When the fictitious band, Where’s Fluffy, announces a surprise concert at an undisclosed location, our two protagonists are brought together for a night of self-discovery as they romp through New York City. Nick O’Leary (Michael Cera), the only straight member of his band, The Jerk Offs, still suffers the heartbreak of his split from the seductive and unfaithful Tris. To console himself, he continues to send her personalized, meticulously-packaged mixed CDs. As Tris throws each CD away, who happens to pick them out of the school garbage but Norah Silverberg (Kat Dennings). She adores the playlists and even appreciates the album art. What can only follow is a chance encounter one night between the two, followed by multiple adventures as they search for Where’s Fluffy, chase down Norah’s intoxicated best friend Caroline, break old relationships and make new ones.
With so many to-dos on Nick and Norah’s plate, it comes as no wonder that the camera zips audiences from place to place. It is New York-in-a-minute, as we hop from raucous night clubs to nondescript streets and adjacent convenient stores to NYC landmarks like Times Square, the Brooklyn bridge and Grace Church. Regrettably, the lack of flow and coherence between the scenes results in an overall impression of messiness.
Amidst their nocturnal escapades, the development of Nick and Norah’s relationship becomes lost in the telling. It appears merely as an artificial outgrowth of their shared music tastes and shared company for the night.
As expected, Cera plays the sweet, sensitive, slightly clueless character as he always has, with the same mannerisms he always has. He is one character who goes through the stages of preteen (“Arrested Development”) to adolescent boy (“Superbad” and “Juno”) and now to the adolescent boy who has learned to play bass guitar. Nevertheless, it is Cera who saves this film from sinking too far into the pit of mediocre romantic comedies, and he does so simply by being himself. Those who have enjoyed his past performances will surely enjoy his awkward humor in “Nick and Norah,” particularly those interactions with his queer, endearing band members.
Unfortunately, Cera’s lovable stiffness is matched by Dennings’ plain, prosaic stiffness. Perhaps the movie makers wanted to portray two characters that were both closed off to the world behind their own protective bubbles before finding each other. However, they seem to remain closed off for an awfully long time—long enough for a city as energetic as New York to swallow up much of the spark remaining in the story of the protagonists.