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3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Rock And Roll Hearts"
5 stars

“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is a film that is so light and effervescent that it almost seems counter-productive to heap superlatives upon it because it seems far too modest and slight to be able to bear the weight of them. And yet, I am going to do just that because it deserves all the praise that it can get. Simply put, this film is a delight from start to finish and while it may look on the surface like just another teen-oriented film involving romance and rock music set over the course of one impossibly eventful evening, it is actually a great teen-oriented film involving romance and rock music set over the course of one impossibly eventful evening. In fact, I would be perfectly willing to put it up there on the same shelf as such other beloved titles as “Say Anything,” “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Once“--that is how good it is. After a month or so of ambitious and weighty pieces of Oscar bait that have, for the most part, failed to live up to their ambitions, here is a film that merely wants to be a sweet and modest romantic comedy and pulls it off to such a degree that I would be perfectly comfortable at this moment to refer to it as one of the best films of the year.

To make a movie along these lines, you need three things--a good-looking couple, an impressive Meet Cute that throws them together and an overriding plot development or two that keeps them together long enough to realize that they are indeed perfect for each other. This time around, our couple consists of a couple of high-school students from New Jersey loose on the streets of New York City over the course of a long Friday night. Nick (Michael Cera) is a low-key type who is the lone straight member of a queer core music trio (whose name is a source of ongoing debate) who, as we discover in the opening scene, has just been cruelly dumped (on his birthday, no less) by snotty teen-queen Tris (Alexia Dziena) and who is processing his grief by sending her a series of mix CDs--the latest is called “Road to Closure Vol. 12”--that she tosses away without giving them a single listen. Norah (Kat Dennings) is an ordinary girl who is frenemies with classmate Tris and whose social life seems to consist almost entirely of trying to keep best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) from getting into trouble after drinking.

The Meet Cute comes on Friday night when Norah comes to the club where Nick’s band is playing and runs into Tris, who has come to tease the poor guy with her new boyfriend. When Tris turns her claws on Norah by making fun of her for not having a boyfriend, Norah claims that her boyfriend is there and impulsively walks up to Nick, not knowing that he is Tris’ ex and asks him to play the part for a few minutes, sealing the deal with the kind of kiss that usually ends movies instead of beginning them. Although they don’t realize it yet, we in the audience already know that the two are perfect for each other. For one thing, they have the same taste in music--it turns out that Norah has been retrieving Nick’s mix discs from the trash and devouring them herself. For another, each one has a mysterious power that will enable them to go far in the world of city living--Nick is able to park his taxicab-yellow Yugo in front of any building he needs to go into and Norah, for reasons that we will eventually discover is able to jump the line outside any club in the city.

As for the plot developments that crop up to keep them together, the first one comes up when they hear that a favorite band is going to be playing a secret concert somewhere in the city that night and they decide to follow the clues and track them down. The second involves Caroline, who did indeed get completely wasted at the show. Relieved to see Nick hitting it off so well with Norah and forgetting the despised Tris, Nick’s bandmates, Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron), and their lone groupie, known only as Lethario (Jonathan B. Wright), agree to take Caroline home so that he and Norah can spend some time together. Inevitably, Caroline runs off for places unknown and so the two are now forced to track her down as well, using Norah’s knowledge of her favorite places to vomit as a guideline. As the night goes on, the two find themselves getting to know each other to the point where they almost begin to realize that they do indeed make for the perfect couple, though obstacles do erupt in the form of Tris, who know decides that she wants Nick back after all in order to trump Norah, and in Norah’s semi-boyfriend (Jay Baruchel), a wannabe punk singer whose interest in Norah seems to extend only to the ways in which he can exploit her influence in order to get a recording contract and his bar bill paid. How this all ends is something that I will leave for you to discover, except to note that pretty much everyone involved gets exactly what they deserve.

On the surface, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” may sound like the kind of utterly ordinary teen-oriented film--half “Gossip Girl” and half “High Fidelity”--that might seem unendurable to any audience members who are already past their own teenage years. And yet, this is the kind of movie where it isn’t so much about the story as it is about how the story is told.--“it’s the singer, not the song,” as Peter Townsend once said. The screenplay by Lorene Scafaria (based on the novel by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan) is filled with a lot of great quips that manage to get a lot of laughs without ever coming across as too “written” (My favorite may be the one when one of Nick’s bandmates is encouraging Norah to put on some more alluring underwear before going off with him by informing her that “Nick is worth the underwire”) while at the same time allowing Nick and Norah moments in which they can let their guards down and deal with their developing feelings for one another in a straightforward and sincere manner. Behind the camera, director Peter Sollett (making his first move behind the camera since his acclaimed 2002 debut “Raising Victor Vargas”) does a wonderful job of capturing the off-kilter rhythms of the big city after hours when everything seems a little bit faster, brighter and stranger than it does during the relative drabness of daytime. He also supplies the film with a delightful sense of infectious energy that permeates every--at certain points, the boundless enthusiasm reminded in a strange way of some of the early and less didactic works of the great Jean-Luc Godard like “Breathless” and “A Woman is a Woman” in the way that the filmmaking style equaled the giddiness of their main characters at certain points. Hell, even the music is pretty good--granted, I haven’t heard of any of the numerous bans whose tunes can be heard here but if the film hits as big as it deserves to, I suspect they will be dominating iPods all across the country.

However, the element of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” that puts it over the top is, of course, the incredibly likable performances from the two leads and the chemistry that develops between them as the story progresses. It could be argued that Michael Cera’s performance as the likeably awkward Nick is not noticeably different from the similarly goofy hangdog turns that he has done on the small screen in the instant classic TV series “Arrested Development” and on the big screen in “Superbad” and “Juno.” However, while that may be true, he is so good at it here in the way that he blends the barely disguised agonies of youth with a crack sense of nicely detached comic timing that you’ll understand why he keeps getting offered such roles--there is no one out there these days who can do them better than he can. After contributing scene-stealing supporting roles in films such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Charlie Bartlett” and “The House Bunny,” Kat Dennings finally gets a chance to step up to the big leagues and responds with what should go down as one of the star-making performances of 2008 with her alternately funny, sweet and vulnerable turn as Norah. By themselves, Cera and Dennings are wonderful but when then come together, that is when the sparks really begin to fly--even the biggest churl imaginable will find it hard to resist the palpable chemistry that emerges as the two flirt, fight or simply bliss out in the presence of each other.

Outside of one unnecessarily gross joke involving the drunk girl and an especially nasty toilet, a bit that seems like a scene from that new Dane Cook movie that was either deleted or escaped, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is a complete joy to watch, whether you are part of its intended target audience or not. In fact, it is so smart, sweet and funny that there is the potential danger that it might wind up falling through the cracks--younger audiences might not know how to react to a film that doesn’t completely condescend to them and older viewers might just mistake it for the same old junk and avoid it altogether. If that were t happen, that would be a huge cinematic tragedy because this is the kind of movie that I can’t imagine audiences coming out of without smiles on their faces and previously unheard songs in their hearts. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is the kind of film that seems almost too modest to bear up under the weight of too many superlatives. Well, having just done exactly that, I guess that all I can say in my defense of using all those superlatives is the simple fact that this is a film that deserves all of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17100&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/03/08 00:28:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/13/12 fartvenugen Why did I watch this? 2 stars
2/14/10 MP Bartley Sweet, cool-but-not-smug and bouncy, giddy fun. 4 stars
12/24/09 Simon Cutesy delivery by gimmicky characters. A decent tribute to NYC if anything 2 stars
12/06/08 Norma Lehigh OOOOOOh, I wouldn't rechieve gooing chum shum the fritter on my nunkest dright! Gruckn foss 1 stars
12/05/08 Allison Lafferty Moderately interesting buildup to a "What the hell just happened?" ending. 2 stars
10/10/08 John Aster Habig Hard to believe the book is even better 5 stars
10/06/08 Sean C. Beautifully swerves around every RoCom Cliche. 5 stars
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  03-Oct-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Feb-2009

  30-Jan-2009 (12A)

  N/A (M)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2009

Directed by
  Peter Sollett

Written by
  Lorene Scafaria

  Michael Cera
  Kat Dennings
  Rafi Gavron
  Aaron Yoo
  Jay Baruchel
  Zachary Booth

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