' Cinema Romantico: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Last summer someone asked me who I thought could best portray me in a movie about my own life. I thought for a moment and replied, "Michael Cera." Lo and behold, a couple months later came this movie with Mr. Cera playing a character named....well, obviously. (Ironically, there is another movie being released this year in which Mr. Cera plays a character named....well, obviously.) All by itself the occurrence was disturbing but at times during the course of Peter Sollett's film it grows more disturbing, like, oh, maybe when Norah (played so deadpanned wonderfully by Kat Dennings) declares, "I'm not gonna' be the goodie bag at your pity party, Nick" and puts special, forceful emphasis on the name. I mean, ouch. I recoiled in my living room. That hurts, Norah!

Unfortunately, the movie itself is also pretty disturbing and not just because it's bad, which it is, but because of how disappointing it is in its badness. There was something there, damn it, a spark, a flame, that they kept snuffing out. "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" has vaulted to the top of my Screenplays I Wish They Would Have Let Me Rewrite list. I coulda' made it crackle, baby.

If you thought the film was going to be "High Fidelity" meets "Before Sunrise" you would be wrong. It's more "High Fidelity" meets "After Hours" meets "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Here's the scoop: Nick has just had his heart broken by Triss (Alexis Dziena) and is now trying to find closure by compulsively making her mixed CDs which she promptly throws in the trash at her school which conveniently allows for Norah, her fellow classmate, to fish them out and immediately place on her Ipod. After all, she's convinced this Nick is her "musical soulmate". (That notion is just plain romantic to me, and I can't help it. It's like a woman I once knew who one night pontificated about the purity of the early Lucinda Williams singing voice which turned me on so much I nearly had to reach behind the bar for a bucket of ice with which to douse myself.)

Of course, Nick and Norah will Meet Cute at a bar later where Nick's band has just played an opening set for Bishop Allen (a band I've actually ranted about on this blog and who appears briefly in the movie playing - wouldn't you know it - the one song I always skip over on their CD). It seems Nick and Norah's favorite band, Where's Fluffy?, is playing a secret set somewhere in NYC and, thus, together they must strike out to scour the haunts and hang-outs of after hours Gotham in attempt to find this mythical show all the while talking, flirting, and falling in love....hard.

Oops! That's what the movie should have been and isn't. Often you will see a film where a supporting character appears at the beginning or at various points during the course of the movie and we only see he or she in relation to the main characters of the primary story. But after the movie someone may offer up the annoying comment, "What happened to so and so?" Except it doesn't matter what happened to so and so because so and so only mattered, as stated, in relation to the main characters of the primary story. When so and so is not part of that primary story, so and so is irrelevant because the story the filmmaker is telling has nothing to do with so and so. If we followed so and so and answered your frickin' question you would instead be whining afterwards about why we had to follow that boring subplot with so and so.

Ladies and gentlemen, I offer Exhibit A.) Caroline (Ari Graynor), Norah's best friend. She exists to ensure we get Norah to the bar to meet Nick and then....she should go off on her merry way. HER NAME'S NOT EVEN IN THE TITLE!!! Instead, because she's drunk, she's thrown in the back of the van of Nick's gay bandmates who will drive her home except she escapes and the movie chooses to keep unecessary tabs on her as she wanders her way around the city in a hazy fog while encountering "hilarious" hijinx. She pukes in a toilet, drops her cellphone in the same toilet and then has to fish the phone out from her puke! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

That is what apparently passes for clever writing these days. You might argue that Caroline's presence provides the reason for Nick and Norah to stay together as they journey through the endless night. But no, that reason already existed - the Where's Fluffy? show. Why not just follow them as they attempt to seek it out, the stakes rising as the night's end draws closer?

Meanwhile we also have to slog through Nick's ex following him around NYC in attempts to apparently re-manipulate him and then there is Tal (Jay Baruchel) who is Norah's ex and who is trying to re-manipulate her at the same time and, of course, Nick and Norah will go back to them but then will see....blah, blah, blah. Not to mention we also have to encounter a bunch of "wacky" cameos, like SNL's Seth Myers making out with some woman in the backseat of what he thinks is a cab for folk rocker Devendra Barnhart turning up in a convenience store because....I don't know. The filmmakers were friends with him, maybe? That's not what we want to see! Not when our two leads have such a wonderful low-key chemistry.

You can see glimpses of what this could have been, like in the moment when Nick "teaches" Norah to dance or in the dozens of understated line readings Dennings totally nails ("It must maintain its freshness") or when they're dashing down to the street while holding hands. We could have spent 90 minutes in the presence of musical soulmates falling in love but instead we see about 8 minutes of that and 82 minutes of - as they say in the music biz - filler.

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