Judge Daryl Loomis's playlist is absolutely finite. Air Supply only has so many songs.
Our review of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Blu-Ray), published March 11th, 2009, is also available.
Every night has a soundtrack.
Young, attractive people hopping around New York is not, for me, the best recipe for a good film. Yet, through strong writing and excellent performances, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist makes me forget that I don't actually like this kind of film very much and lets me ride along in a dumpy van hunting down some punk band I've never heard of.
Facts of the Case
Nick (Michael Cera, Superbad), the bass player and only straight member of gay punk band The Jerk-Offs, is heartbroken after his longtime girlfriend dumps him on his birthday. A music aficionado, he soothes his soul and tries to win her back through a series of mix-CDs, which she mocks to her friends before throwing them in the trash. Norah (Kat Dennings, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) doesn't know Nick, but she pulls those discs out of the trash and adores them; her musical identity is in many ways based off of them and she has fallen for him a little without ever having met him. One chance night, however, while attending a Jerk-Offs show, Norah finds herself smitten, especially when he offers to help her get her drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor, Mystic River) home. When she disappears, Norah, Nick, and the band have to bounce around the five boroughs of New York City looking for her while waiting for word on where the elusive, great Where's Fluffy? will play that night.
As Nick's band mates say after successfully getting Nick and Norah together, they make a cute couple. Upon their first kills, the look in their eyes says it all. No matter what happens, these two are meant to be together. Both look out of place in their own skin but, hand in hand, their comfort level immediately rises. Both have just stepped out of bad relationships with people who ignore them until they try to move on and each is a stark contrast to the other's former flame. Nick is helpful, kind, and supportive while her friend-with-benefits Tal (Jay Baruchel, Tropic Thunder) is a selfish, angry loser who will abuse Norah's kindness as soon as he has the chance. Norah is intelligent, independent, and soft-hearted in contrast to Tris (Alexis Dziena, Havoc), a self-absorbed, manipulative, mean person who cheated on Nick since day one and clearly has no intention of stopping. The two exes are set up as so awful that the audience has no choice but to want to see Nick and Norah together.
Their journey through the five boroughs takes two forms: the search for Caroline and the search for the Where's Fluffy? concert, who is playing this night in an undisclosed location. This band drips with indie cred; the kids are all desperate to see them so listen closely to the radio for clues to their location, leading to one red herring after another. This gives the film a light mystery to go alongside the love story and keeps the film going without allowing them to get too sappy with the romance. The two hunting missions are kept mostly parallel, though they occasionally intersect, making them travel from place to place to fulfill conflicting priorities, often at the same time.
Full of coincidences, the plotline doesn't do a whole lot for me. It has elements of madcap comedy, running from place to place into increasingly crazy situations, but the intersections in the plot are a little too convenient for my tastes. The characters and performances, however, are excellent and completely drive the film. Cera and Dennings are both thoroughly appealing in their title roles, and the supporting cast is exceptional. Graynor's Caroline is about as realistic a young drunk as can be. Sloppy and irritating much of the time, she also plays the role with an endearing sympathy that makes you want to root for her. There isn't a time where she comes out of character and, from her dialog to her walk to the guttural, nauseating sounds she makes, it's hard to believe that she wasn't completely trashed throughout the filming. Nick's bandmates and their friend are something of a revelation for gay characters in a straight film. They are not flaming stereotypes in any way. They are full characters, the cupids that get Nick and Norah together the first time, are absolutely willing to sacrifice their night to make sure Caroline gets home okay, and are the glue that holds the film together. The cameos from Saturday Night Live vets Seth Myers and Andy Samberg are two of the funniest parts of the film and everyone, from top to bottom, play their parts with conviction. As much as the human characters, a number of inanimate objects play solid characters, as well. As we watch the adventures of Caroline's gum, Nick's Yugo, and the city of New York itself, we see how they are as important to the film as the humans and help give strong additional threads to the overall uncomplicated plot.
Competently directed by Peter Sollet (Raising Victor Vargas), the film moves quickly, never slowing down the comedy for the sake of the romance. Instead, he integrates these elements with a simple, elegant style. He incorporates gross-out humor and sex jokes with a comedy of errors style romance to keep the dialog fresh and fast-moving, never relying on one thing to get laughs. The screenplay by Lorene Scafaria, from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, is strong on character and the dialog never falls back on ultra-hip posturing, no matter how cool those characters think they are. The music in the film is paramount; the songs, by a number of punk and indie artists, are all well-done while the original music, by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, fills in the gaps between songs with his subtle skills.
Sony's DVD release of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is very fine on all fronts. The transfer looks fantastic, with almost no errors of any kind. Most of the film takes place at night and the shadows are full and deep while retaining a good saturation in the colors. The surround sound is also good, though not as powerful as it could be. For a film so obsessed with music, I would have hoped for a stronger mix. There is some separation in the surround channels and the dialog is uniformly clear, but it doesn't have much oomph at any point. The disc is full of supplemental material; enough that I'm a little surprised (and pleased) that it wasn't a two-disc release. Two commentaries start us off well, with good material on both. The first is with Sollet, Cera, Dennings, and Graynor together to discuss the making of the film in general, detailing little things that didn't make the film and their joy of working together. The second, the more interesting of the two, is with Sollet and the writers of the novel, where they discuss the origins of the story in an excellent lesson on the transfer of a novel to film. Deleted scenes and outtakes shows us what could have been in the film, some of which is as good as anything in the film but, because of the content, may also have driven it into the R-rated category. The best extra is a Nick & Norah puppet show by Kat Dennings, which is cute and funny, but also reveals just how nutty she can be. Storyboards, photo galleries, a video diary by Ari Graynor, a music video, and a very funny fake interview with Cera and Dennings rounds out this stout release.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is a very sweet film. It's not the funniest film of the year, nor does it have the strongest story, but it has uniformly excellent performances, pretty good music, and a great heart.
Not guilty. I just heard that Where's Fluffy? is playing atop a sewer grate on 42nd Street. Court is adjourned, let's hit the van.
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