© 2008 Ray Wong
Beside last year's Juno, there really are not many romance or romantic comedies for the Generation Y. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist fills the gap with a sweet and irrelevant love story.
Nick (Michael Cera) is a dorky high school senior who is also the only straight dude in a "gay band" with his best friends Dev (Rafi Gavron) and Thom (Aaron Yoo). Nick is still hung up on Tris (Alexis Dziena) weeks after they've broken up. Meanwhile, Norah (Kat Dennings), who goes to the same prep school as Tris, has a crush on the mysterious "Nick" who makes the best mixed CDs.
Nick and Norah finally meet at a club where Nick and his band are playing. To make Tris jealous, Norah asks Nick to be his girlfriend for the night. Nick goes along with that scheme. When Norah's drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) is "lost" in Manhattan, Nick and Norah set out on a citywide search. Meanwhile, they're trying to figure out what they really want out of this adventure.
Michael Cera (Juno) has carved out a niche for himself playing the unlikely romantic hero in teen sex/romantic comedies. Dorky and likable, Cera is this generation's Benjamin Braddock. He's naive, sweet, frustrated, and he has a great heart. Cera is pitch perfect and natural -- one only assumes he's playing himself in these roles. Perhaps we'll see, in the future, if Cera can break out and play something else. Kat Dennings (House Bunny) is also excellent as Norah. She's spunky without being obnoxious, sweet without being a pushover, and smart without being nerdy. She's made a great impression.
The supporting cast is in fine form as well. Aaron Yoo (21) also has a niche playing the goofy sidekick. Here he's playing gay without "playing gay." The on-screen friendship between him and Cera seems genuine. Rafi Gavron (Breaking and Entering) is charismatic as the leader of the gay band and, ironically, Nick's romantic advisor. Alexis Dziena (Fool's Gold) is deliciously gorgeous and catty as Nick's ex. Jonathan Wright (Youth in Revolt) plays his minor character well, and steals a scene near the end of the movie. The standout is Ari Graynor (For Your Consideration): her drunk girl is hilarious and there is one particularly gross scene that alone is worth the cost of admission. A few cameos include SNL's Seth Meyers, Akiva Schaffer, and John Cho.
Adapted by Lorene Scafaria (The Nines) from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's novel, the story is basically a romance set in a wild goose chase. The plot mostly feels organic -- how one thing just leads to another -- and somehow reminds me of the dark comedy After Hours, where things just happen and before you know it, it's 5 in the morning. Certain circumstances do feel a bit forced (such as the whole "Fluffy" subplot and the "meet cute" plot line). And I have a hard time believing someone like Tris would hook up with Nick in the first place, and how someone as adorable as Norah couldn't find an age-appropriate boyfriend. But the relationships, as written, work very well, and these actors have great chemistry to pull them off.
The dialogue is cute but not too cliched. There are a few "good for you" moments that feel natural and enlightening. The minor characters are particularly lovable. Nick and Norah are two identifiable teenagers. The script is not outrageously raunchy and sexual, so that's a really nice change of pace. Scafaria proves to us that one can be funny without being gross (OK, there is one or two gross but relatively innocent moments).
Director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) has a knack for teenage dramas and comedies. The energy is formidable, and the pacing is just right. He's able to mix the fanatic movements and the quieter, sweeter moments with equal attention. He also obviously knows New York City -- his use of the locations, the atmospheres, and the cultural references (underground bands, gay plays, all night parties...) are spot on. He makes me want to visit New York right now. For a film about a "playlist," the film also boasts an excellent soundtrack.
Granted, the material is a bit out of my age group (I'm by no means an old fart, however). Still, the core of the story is a sweet coming of age romance. It's so devoid of cynicism and anger and prejudice; and I find that very refreshing. There's certain innocence in the whole thing that makes me smile. Nick and Norah will certainly make it into my own playlist.
Stars: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena, Jonathan B. Wright
Director: Peter Sollett
Writer: Lorene Scafaria based on novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature themes, teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.6 out of 10