Judge Gordon Sullivan marvels that no one got shot in the tabloids.
Our review of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, published March 5th, 2009, is also available.
Every night has a soundtrack.
Something about high school just begs for those "one night in the life" kind of films. The obvious classic (at least for me) is Dazed and Confused, though there have been other good ones (Can't Hardly Wait comes to mind). Now we can add another to the list: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Unlike the previously mentioned teen flicks, Nick & Norah generally focuses on the title characters as they fall in love over a single night in NYC. Although I don't think it will oust Dazed and Confused from the top of the pile, the flick offers excellent performances and effervescent charm.
Facts of the Case
Nick (Michael Cera, Juno) has just been dumped by the love of his life, the snobby prep-school airhead Tris (Alexis Dziena, Broken Flowers). To cope, he's made her dozens of mix CDs that intimately chronicle his anguish. Tris is too good for these displays of affection, so she dumps them in the trash. There, they are picked up by Norah, a music nerd and misfit who doesn't know that Nick exists. Their paths cross physically when Nick's queercore band plays a gig in NYC that Norah attends before trying to find the secret location of the next gig by uber-hip band Where's Fluffy. Norah is accompanied by her drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor, Mystic River), who needs to go home early due to her alcohol consumption. Knowing that he's been hurt bad by Tris, Nick's bandmates agree to take Caroline home so that Nick can get some quality time with Norah. However, nothing goes as planned: the drunken Caroline, who thinks she's been kidnapped, Tris, who shows up to torment Nick, and Norah's past all conspire to keep the couple from falling for each other.
I'm a huge music geek, so any story predicated on a mixtape or musical premise has to be extra good to win my affections. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist certainly didn't start off on the right foot. Something about making Michael Cera the lone hetero member of a high school queercore band just didn't sit right with me, and some of the early musical references just felt too "on the nose" to be genuine. Then, somewhere around the 30-minute mark the film stopped trying to impress with its musical prowess and I was slowly sucked into the story of Nick and Norah.
Make no mistake, despite gay bandmates, a drunken friend, random exes, and the search for the elusive Where's Fluffy, this film is all about Nick and Norah's gradual mutual attraction. Luckily, the creative team behind Nick & Norah did a spot-on job of casting the two leads. Michael Cera didn't show me much in Juno, but here he gives his awkward charm some wings. It's difficult to believably go from lovelorn music geek to semi-confident seducer, but Cera manages it quite well. Kat Dennings is equally impressive as Norah, who has to be strong, sexy, and smart without coming off as bitchy. Although she doesn't start out quite as nerdy as Nick, she does have to grow in confidence as the film progresses. Both actors turn the typical romantic comedy tropes into an opportunity to show actual character growth.
The film also gets major points for setting. New York City has probably never seemed so cuddly after dark. Sure there's a burlesque Jesus and some unsightly toilets, but overall the Five Boroughs haven't looked this good in a while. Usually that would bother me, but the slightly-unreal setting actually gave the film a much-needed sense of fantasy that only reinforces Nick and Norah's romantic leanings.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist tripled its budget in box-office earnings, so it's no surprise that the film gets a pretty decked-out Blu-ray release. While the film sanitizes the Big Apple's night life, the look of this flick is a little more spontaneous and gritty. No, it's not Mean Streets, but the film is far from slick or polished in the video department. This is reflected well in the video transfer, which boasts a decent amount of detail but has some fluctuation in contrast and color which seems to come from the source rather than the transfer. The audio is fine for a romantic comedy that centers on music. The main track is clear with judicious use of the surrounds, even if it won't top anyone's "best of" list.
The main extras for this disc are the two commentaries that play during the film. The first features the creative team behind the film including the director, the screenwriter, and the authors of the source novel. The group is relaxed, focusing a lot on the creative decisions and adaptations that went into the production. The second track features the director along with actors Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, and Ari Gaynor. This track features a "telestrator" which allows the group to draw on the screen, resulting in much goofing off. In between "telestrations," stories about the film's production emerge. Everybody is nice and relaxed and the track is fun.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist required a few reshoots, and we get the animated storyboards that director Peter Sollet used to flesh out the characters' back story. There are also some outtakes and deleted scenes, none of them essential. We also get a fake interview with the film's stars that turns out to be a showcase for the comedic talents of Eddie Kaye Thomas. In keeping with the general laidback vibe of the extras, we also get Ari Gaynor's video diary from the set, documenting the production in all of its goofy glory. Kat Dennings also provides us with a recreation of Nick & Norah using homemade puppets. For fans of the film's trailer music, there's a music video for "Middle Management" by Bishop Allen, as well as a photo album by the director. The disc promises a number of BD-Live features, including interactive playlists and a "CineChat" feature to send text messages during the film, but they wouldn't show up on my player. For those that care, a second disc containing a digital copy of the film is also included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A couple of things keep Nick & Norah's Infinte Playlist from achieving classic status. The main problem is that the film takes a while to find its legs. I think the reshot back story helps the film overall, but it feels like it might have been better done in flashbacks to get to the city faster. Also, in some ways the film feels too insular, making it easy to sympathize with Nick and Norah, but hard to identify with them.
Finally, I feel that I should mention the absolutely disgusting scene where the drunken Caroline retrieves her gum from a Port Authority toilet after she's puked it out. It was easily more repulsive than anything I've seen in a horror movie this decade and feels a bit out of place in the film. Those with weak stomachs are warned.
Nick & Norah is obviously aiming for the twelve-to-twenty-two crowd in the mood for a romantic comedy that isn't afraid to be a little spunky and flash its indie cred. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then Nick & Norah is unlikely to disappoint, while the cynical need not apply. For fans of the movie, this Blu-ray disc is the way to go for its upgraded audiovisual presentation and extras compared to the standard-def release.
While I don't want it to go on forever, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.