Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Movie Review
Imagine if back when you were 17, instead of playing CDs in your bedroom and dreaming about getting up the nerve to talk to a girl or guy, you played bass in a punk band that performed gigs in New York City. After your show, you hopped around the Lower East Side with a cute girl who knew all your favorite I-liked-'em-first bands, and who could get you into any club in town. You and she and your buddies partied until dawn with nary a care for the consequences, the law, or your parents.
That's Nick & Norah. Sadly, it's not as much fun as it looks.
When we meet Nick (Michael Cera) he is nursing the emotional wounds from a savage break-up with the monstrous Tris (Alexis Dziena). For therapy, he skips school and withdraws to his bedroom for ritualistic burning of mix CDs. Nick is also the only straight member of a queer-core band temporarily called The Jerk-Offs, who somehow find good gigs even though they're backed by a toy drum machine.
Norah (Kat Dennings) is the frumpy daughter of a music industry legend, who's conflicted about her privilege, but still gladly exploits it to skip the line at her favorite rock clubs. She and her party-girl pal Caroline train over to NYC to see The Jerk-Offs open for the awesome, awesome Bishop Allen.
After the show, Nick and Norah soon discover their mutual love for the (fictional) indie legends Where's Fluffy and go off to find their secret late-nite show. But Nick's not the only one with issues - Norah's got an intermittent relationship with another musician.
Meanwhile, Tris traipses around town with her new college boyfriend, but her jealousy at seeing Nick vibe with Norah - who Tris sees as a frigid nobody - inspires her to recapture Nick. Meanwhile, Nick, Norah, and the other Jerk-Offs drive around town searching for Caroline, who is lost, broke, and foolishly drunk.
You couldn't have asked for more winning leads for this semi-wild night than Cera and Dennings. As he previously demonstrated in 2007's left-right combo of Superbad and Juno, Cera is Gen Y's John Cusack. He is blessed with quiet understatement, masterful comic timing, and an earnestness that's impossible not to love.
Dennings also feels marvelously legit. They could have gotten another hot chick with glasses to play Norah, but Dennings wears her oddball quirk like she owns it. And her chemistry with Cera reminds us why movies are usually better than real life.
But Nick & Norah's movie-real-life nexus is tenuous at best. These characters are, after all, ostensibly in high school. But after you've watched a group of 20-something actors routinely drink and party in hipster clubs, navigate the Lower East Side like it's the mall in Paramus, prattle about three-year relationships, and rock out 'til dawn, it's a little jarring to hear the occasional reference to college admissions. Unlike Superbad, which hysterically celebrated the tensions and failures of underage merriment, Nick & Norah more or less ignores the lifestyle differences between ages 17 and 23.
That sucks a lot of the potential fun out of the story, and the vomit gags, slapstick, and wacky cameos fail to substitute. Most disappointingly, for all their charms, Cera and Dennings are denied the conflict required to make their budding relationship interesting. From frame one, it's obvious that these two characters have everything in common and destiny awaits their union. It's the title of the movie.
We're going to need some people who can hold some hair back.