First, it must be understood that the Nick and Norah whose infinite playlist this is are of no discernible relation to Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, which became a series of six boozily banter-intensive movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy in the ’30s and ’40s.
This has to be explained up front because movie critics like to feel important, and to act crotchety, which means making you wait for the information you came here for by spouting off about how pretty much nobody in Nick & Norah’s target demographic even will have heard of the Thin Man movies anyway, damn kids, with their broadband porn and too many tattoos and Twitter-frazzled attention spans.
It is possible, however, that five more movies like this one will fill the coming years–that, indeed, by decade’s end there’ll be a whole Netflix subcategory of Teen Movies With Squiggly Hand-Drawn Opening Credits and Alt-Pop Soundtracks and Michael Cera.
The first such film was of course Juno, in which Cera was responsible for impregnating a 16-year-old girl and then revealing himself to be geekily adorable to her. In Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, he’s still working the geekily adorable angle, but his mission, should he choose to accept it, will be to get over getting dumped by one young lady and, potentially, to woo and satisfy another who’s never had an orgasm. What a trouper, this guy.
Not to say Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a mere sex comedy, although, as Cera’s Nick complains early on to the gay mates in his queercore band, the Jerk Offs, “You don’t know what it’s like to be straight, OK? It’s awful.” They won’t hear of that, and so they take him out for a night on the town, first to play their own gig and then to track down a secret show from an indie-kid-approved band called Where’s Fluffy? That one night is the whole movie.
The town is New York, particularly the East Village and Brooklyn, and it’s looking good. For starters, parking is never a problem. Plus, there’s Norah (Kat Dennings), a softly sarcastic beauty with a mysterious, plot-relevant way of being waved in by bouncers at every club she visits.
She’s the one who’s orgasmically challenged, yes, and Nick’s mates (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) figure she’s also the one for him. And of course the movie, adapted by Lorene Scafaria from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s young-adult novel and directed by Peter Sollett, of the well-liked 2003 NYC-teen-drama Raising Victor Vargas, wants us to agree.
It’s just that Nick’s obviously still not over Tris (Alexis Dziena), the bitchy blonde with no shortage of makeup and confidence and no surplus of wit and taste, for whom he’s been making unsolicited mix cds with titles like “The Road to Closure, Volume 12.” Importantly, Norah can’t stand Tris and doesn’t know Nick, but has been retrieving those cds from the trash and admiring them.
And so, bring on the night. Our titular clubbers’ courtship will be a halting one, flitting (or plodding, depending on viewers’ tolerance) between vignettes and containing minor obstacles. These include contending with the exes (Norah’s is an opportunistic poseur named Tal, well played by Jay Baruchel), having Nick’s yellow Yugo mistaken for a cab, losing Norah’s helplessly drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and wandering around and wondering where the hell’s Where’s Fluffy?
What Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist lacks in dramatic structure it almost makes up for in chatty, light-romancey charm. As mandated, perhaps, by its big-studio overseer (Sony), the movie prefers broad appeal to scenester affectation; it is very aptly cast and charitable to its characters, allowing for a few well-delivered zingers by principals and supporting players alike–as when, for instance, one of the Jerk Offs has occasion to remark, “If anyone’s gonna get raped in that van, it’s gonna be a guy.” (Don’t worry.)
And of course the Infinite Playlist playlist, though finite, contains the likes of Devendra Banhart, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, Shout Out Louds and an original score by Mark Mothersbaugh, the Michael Cera of film composers.
Though it will find its audience, this movie doesn’t seem like a signature work for Sollett, not in the same way two movies it evokes, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, did for their directors. But what do these damn kids today care about those old relics anyway?