Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (**)

Directed by Peter Sollett


Within Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, we see a prime of example of a film that wants to have its cake and eat it too. The film urges the audience to believe that these characters are edgy and hip, but borrows more Hollywood high school stereotypes than an Amy Heckerling film. The film is streamed with music, supposedly coming from the iPod of some self-righteous art student clamoring for the days when pop music meant Jackson Browne instead of Justin Timberlake.

The film opens with Nick (Michael Cera) as he lies in bed, still hopelessly heartbroken by his beautiful, but flighty ex-girlfriend Tris (Alex Dziena)--even to the point where he has taken a mental health day from school. His best friends Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) are the other two-thirds of their band The Jerk-Offs, and Nick is the only member of the band who isn't homosexual. They want Nick to come out of his month-long heartbreak, so he can join them in seeing an exclusive concert by their favorite band, Where's Fluffy?.

Tris goes to Sacred Heart High School, where she is friends with Norah (Kat Dennings). Well, if you consider friends people who are in a constant tense confrontation with one another, then yeah, they're great friends. The main reason they even talk to each other much is because Norah's best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) insists that Tris is "not that bad"--that's the only explanation. Just so happens, Norah's favorite band is Where's Fluffy? as well, and when she's clued in to the secret show, she convinces Caroline to join her to see them.

While they're out, within minutes, Caroline is hammered drunk, and Norah is left in a compromising situation. In a rouse not to be embarrassed in front of a chastising Tris, Norah randomly grabs Nick and begs him to pretend to be her boyfriend for only a few moments. For some reason unexplained, Thom and Dev decide that Nora is "the one" for Nick, at least to get him over Tris. So we are set up to a night of teenage debauchery, as Nick and Norah stroll the New York City streets, in part looking for Where's Fluffy? and in another, searching for Caroline who has drunkenly wandered off, unseen.

Let's forget how often this film promotes irresponsible teenage behavior, and the fact that there is never an adult around to police their abundant consumption of alcohol and erratic driving. It's not far outside the realm of belief that a group of teenagers could have a night like this, especially within a Hollywood movie. What I can't forgive is promoting this illicit behavior and trying to force into a cuddly, PG-13 storyline, where every character is a stock character and there are no consequences for your actions.

The film does have some redeeming characteristics. Dziena is saucy as the narcissistic minx who plays peanuckle with Nick's heart, and Jay Baruchel makes an entertaining cameo as Norah's ex. The film is obviously geared toward the same demographic as those who loved Juno. The movie makes it obvious, from it's box, hand-drawn opening credits, to the casting of its main star. The only problem is that this film doesn't have nearly the wit or the bite of Juno. This film claims to speak for the voices of the indie-rock crowd, but ignores the rage required to do so. All this movie wants is for everybody to hug.

I'd say I'm a Michael Cera fan. There are things Cera is able to do with a glance, that many veteran actors can't do with paragraphs of dialogue, but he has been shoeboxxed into the same characters. He is never seen on a movie screen without a sweet face or a hooded sweatshirt, and with this film I fear he has already become typecast so early in his young career. Kat Dennings was pretty good in a bit part I saw her in within The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and she shows in this movie that she is clever enough to wrap her mouth around good dialogue. Problem is, good dialogue is hard to find in this film, and she is left to act more with her eyes and lips, not her strong point.

The film is sparse in its 90 minutes. Its last third is probably its most entertaining, mostly because it abandons all of the conventions, and focuses mainly on the relationship between Nick and Norah. I don't know if they are the kind of soul mates the film tries to make them out to be (I mean, how can you tell that kind of thing when you only know someone for ten hours?), but Dennings and Cera do have some chemistry which could be productive in a more creative story. The film is directed by Peter Sollett of Raising Victor Vargas fame, but he does a poor job handling this material, since it falls far shy of Vargas's authenticity.

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