Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Shortly after this movie ended, Alex said to me “That’s the first movie I’ve seen since I was a teenager that made me want to be a teenager again.”

I know exactly what she means. The film is smart without being pretentious, funny without being absurd and touching without being overly sentimental. Mostly it’s a good time spent with two of the most endearing young actors I’ve seen in years, and ultimately that’s what makes it a real success.

Set on a wild night in New York City, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist follows Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, two high school seniors with a shared love of indie music and, eventually, each other.

Cera has yet to be anything less than brilliant, from three great seasons of Arrested Development through Superbad and Juno and now this, his first headlining role. He has a gift for making geekdom somehow cool. In this film, he plays a bass player with two hot girls competing for him, but with the same combination of innocence and guile he always brings to the table. He’s the kid who’s smarter than everyone in the room, but in a depressing way, because he knows it won’t get any better than this. I’m curious to see how his talent will translate to adult roles… he’s so perfectly suited for the high school ones.

Then there’s Dennings, a relative unknown who completely owns the screen whether she’s on it or not. I had seen a few of her YouTube clips, which consisted of her dancing awkwardly and bouncing cheese off a trampoline, but I had no idea what a winning actress she is. She’s also classically beautiful in the way the quiet girls usually are, while the show-offs have those baby doll faces that will barely last them through college.

And I’d be remiss not to mention Ari Graynor, another unknown who nearly steals the movie with her portrayal of Caroline, Norah’s party girl friend. Graynor is hilariously fearless, with a refreshing lack of vanity and splendid comic timing.

There’s not much to say about the plot, which essentially boils down to Nick and Norah navigating obstacles on their way to finding out they were made for each other. I’ve read some comparisons to Before Sunset, but this film has a much more conventional structure, with circumstances and supporting characters responsible for the conflict. It ain’t Before Sunset, and those expecting it to be will be disappointed.

But if you expect laughs, great music, beautiful New York scenery and 90 minutes with two amazingly charismatic young actors, you are in for a treat.

4 thoughts on “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

  1. Amy says:

    I can’t say the film made me want to be a teenager again, as my teenage years looked nothing like Nora’s. It certainly made me wonder how many teenagers take advantage of the city life surrounding them (whatever city they happen to be near) or if that was just part of the fantasy world of the film. I agree that the two lead performaces are so winning that you’d basically be willing to believe just about anything from these two. Still, as much as I enjoyed the film for its own merits, the only nostalgia I felt was for the teenage movie of my youth – The Breakfast Club.

  2. Kerrie says:

    It’s funny. On my way to work this morning I started thinking about the “great movies” of my youth – The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, etc. -(basically, all your “brat pack” faves) – and wondering if it was weird that at 36 I still think they are the best movies ever.
    I was listening to a “mix cd” I made myself last year that has one of the songs from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack on it and this is what popped into my head. I found myself wondering if I’ll still be watching those movies with nostalgia when I’m 50. I wondered if my kids will find them funny or pathetic – they’ll be so dated by then as they were pre-cell phone, text message and Facebook (among other things). I wondered if my kids would find them as endearing as “classics” as I do the movies my mother saw that way and shared with me (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, etc.). It’s interesting.
    I wasn’t sure if I’d see Nick and Norah because I wasn’t sure I’d relate in any way (although I did like Charlie Bartlett, also starring Kat Dennings), but I’m pretty sure it will at least end up on my rental queue thanks to your review. 🙂

  3. Clay says:

    I’ve been happily surprised to see my kids respond to the movies I loved when I was their age and older (movies like E.T. and The Princess Bride). It will be interesting to see if they also respond to the teen movies as they grow older and more cynical.

    I agree that those John Hughes movies are true classics, and I don’t know if that’s because I was a teenager when they came out or because they really were that good. Is anything being made today that’s up to that level? I’ve enjoyed some new teen movies as an adult (10 Things I Hate About You and this one leap to mind) but I wouldn’t put them on a level with those Hughes movies.

  4. Amy says:

    If a writer (author/sceenwriter/playwright) gets it “right,” and is creating true-to-life characters and situations, then those stories continue to resonate regardless of how much time goes by. Our kids will respond to The Breakfast Club because there are as many (if not more) divisions in school today as there were when we went. The “jocks,” “the geeks,” “the princesses,” “the criminals,” and the – what the hell was Ally Sheedy anyay – “freaks” (see Freaks and Geeks for further evidence of this theory) are types that walk the halls of every school. Just as Nick and Nora represent people we know (even if I coudn’t at all relate to the situation they were in).

    My hope is that great art, regardless of its form, survives. Notice how Kerrie lists a couple of films from her mother’s youth. I’d imagine there are far more that never make the cut to being shown to the kids. Besides, if Maddie and Daniel can’t appreciate The Breakfast Club or The Princess Bride or ET, then clearly I’ve failed as a parent 😉

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