Nick and Norah teen tunes

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
United States, 2008
Directed By: Peter Sollett
Written By: Adam Brightman, Nathan Kahane
Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings
Running Time: 90 min.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior
2 out of 5 stars
An hour or so into Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, one character refers to a record producer as “A former hippie, current yuppie, spoon-feeding the masses the same old garbage,” and I’m sorry to say that that’s not a bad description of the people behind the film. Nick and Norah sports a title that would seem to suggest a quirky, indie-esque comedy, and the cast (which features Michael Cera of Juno and Superbad, as well as Kat Dennings of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Charlie Bartlett) seems to have been assembled to back that up. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than a formulaic teen-oriented romantic comedy that happens to have latched onto a trend that might have been cool and edgy about five years ago.

The trend to which I refer, of course, is the iPod (as implied by the word “playlist” in the title). No doubt, the idea for the film took hold when one of the writers was admiring his own iTunes library and noticed that the total running time came to several days. From there it was only a small step further: What if a couple of New York teens of the “I like music!” variety stayed up all night swapping songs from their iPods, mixes, and albums, and then fell in love? The answer turns out to be “Nothing interesting would happen”—but then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve pretty much given you the whole premise, but I may as well flesh it out a bit, for those of you looking for justification (you’re not likely to find any). Michael Cera plays Nick, the bassist for a local band, who recently broke up with his girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena, Fool’s Gold) and has been attempting to ease his pain by sending her CD mixes (all titled The Road to Closure, Vol. [x]). She never listens to them, but her friend Norah (Dennings) often takes them, and has found that Nick (whom she’s never met) has excellent taste in music. When she goes to see his band perform, they bump into each other, and end up spending the rest of the night together, hanging out all over the New York club scene.

The problem with all this is that it never really feels like two people staying up together in a single night. On the one hand, the pace is far too lackadaisical; it just doesn’t possess enough of an immediacy to feel like a few continuous hours. On the other hand, the writers just haven’t come up with a compelling reason for the two characters to stay up all night; it feels as if they got set on the premise and then struggled—and failed—to think of an impetus for it.

They’ve attempted to remedy this by adding a couple of MacGuffins to the plot. The first is a friend of Norah’s (played by Ari Graynor) who gets drunk and runs off; the second is a popular band called Where’s Fluffy?, whose shtick apparently consists of never telling anyone at which venue they’re actually going to play on any given night (you’d think that would serve to thin out their fanbase, but apparently not). The problem with the friend is that they find her halfway through the film; the problem with Where’s Fluffy? is that there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the band (and yes, the scene cuts out as soon as their show begins). In other words, the cast’s problems aren’t compelling, so we can’t possibly care about them.

Really, none of this would have come as a surprise to me if I had thought about the premise for more than a couple of seconds. The teen set, at which this movie is solidly aimed, might want to buy into these comforting lies, but the fact is that your personal taste in music is one of the most irrelevant things in the universe (and I’ll gladly admit that my taste in movies is just as unimportant). Similarity of musical preference isn’t the sort of foundation that makes for a lasting or meaningful relationship, even (perhaps especially) if it does result in multi-orgasmic sex in a recording studio the first night you meet. (Oops, was that a spoiler?) But if you’re still wondering if you’ll enjoy this movie, I have the perfect way to know for sure: are you the sort of person who still sits around patting yourself on the back for how eclectic your iPod is? If so, run (don’t walk!) to the multiplex.

About the author:

A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies and music.  In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano, pretending to be Assistant Editor for, or reviewing the many musical events in Northeastern Oklahoma for Tulsa Today.