Director: Peter Sollett
Cast: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Alexis Dziena, and Ari Graynor
Runtime: 90 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is an achingly sweet modern love story built around the idea that the title characters belong together, and since the both of them are tangible and genial movie teens, it’s easy to find yourself swept up in their budding romance. Racing around the night scene of Manhattan’s active East Village, the fated two meet by chance, fall for each other, separate in the course of emotional drama, and find their way back to each other to eventually fall in love—all in the span of one wild night on the town.
Michael Cera plays Nick, a sad-sack bassist in a starter band called The Jerk Offs. He was dumped a month ago by his insipid bimbo ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), for whom he’s been making mixed CDs ever since. Tris tosses the discs aside thinking them pitiable, and Norah, played by the delightful Kat Dennings, picks them up, wowed by Nick’s taste in music and his affinity for creating original cover art. Through a tumultuous scenario which I won’t describe hear, Nick and Norah end up locking lips, making Tris jealous, and find unexpected chemistry.
At the instant those sparks fly, Norah’s obscenely drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) makes it clear she needs a ride home. But the other members of Nick’s band (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) see Norah as a suitable partner for their glum friend—not only because Nick has been sickeningly morose over his breakup (cue Charlie Brown music), but because Nick and Norah make an adorable couple—so they volunteer to drive Caroline home, giving Nick and Norah the evening to scout the town for Where’s Fluffy?, a band that announces the location of the evening’s gig by dropping hints at assorted dingy venues.
Jumping between Caroline, who escapes her would-be designated drivers to wander the city in an atrocious (yet hilarious) stupor, to Nick, who can’t seem to get over Tris, to Norah, who’s probably too mature to be tolerating any of these characters, the film meanders about in directions we might not want it to go. Based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay lacks the cohesion of Juno, or even Superbad, two films to which this one will undoubtedly be compared. Incidents spring up out of nowhere, sometimes without any purpose beyond a hearty laugh. Others have great significance and make our hearts sing (cheesy description on my part, but accurate). In a way, I suppose, director Peter Sollett hopes to involve his viewers in the slapdash event of drifting wherever the city takes you.
The film’s pleasures reside in both Cera and Dennings, two actors arguably pigeonholed into repeating the same roles, albeit fruitfully. Cera’s meek, sarcastic, emotionally fragile persona has maintained itself since Arrested Development, but it suits him (in the same way the dry staleness of Bob Newhart has proved immovable-yet-successful over the years). Dennings has more potential, I think, playing the atypical dark beauty here and in Charlie Bartlett to contrast whatever “toothpick” blonde represents her standard competition. Her natural onscreen presence and clear confidence playing intelligent young women will serve her well, but hopefully she moves beyond this somewhat type-cast role in the coming years.
Together they make quite a twosome, debating their favorite bands, laughing, and gazing into each other’s eyes with blind, endearing love. Granted the spellings are different, but I can’t help but think of The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora, and therein consider the great Hollywood couples. Cera and Dennings are no match for William Powell and Myrna Low, nor Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall—they’re more in the realm of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Comparably so, when they’re together, the pairing feels real. And despite being loosely sewn together by random events, the film wins us over with a romantic payoff we anticipate throughout.