Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nick & Norah's Infinitely Indulgent Playlist

The problem with Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, the "hot" new release on DVD this week, is that many adults will go and see the film hoping for another Juno.  But Juno this isn't.  It also isn't Adventures In Babysitting, Ferris Bueller's Day Off or any of the other myriad of 80's teen comedies that center on adolescent rebellion and hold a place of nostalgia for the generation of 30-somethings who were weaned on Atari, Lite-Brite and Kool-Aid.  I say this because the movie is clearly intended to trigger this nostalgia, starting with the grainy, high contrast film stock on which it's shot and carrying over to its kitschy production design and eclectic underground-style soundtrack.  

Having grown up in the 80's, I really wanted to like this movie.  The story centers on Nick (Michael Cera), a goofy, endearingly low-rent teen musician who cannot get over a recent break-up with his girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena) and demonstrates this by sending her mix-CD after mix-CD of his favorite underground artists.  In one fateful night, he meets Norah (Kat Dennings), the daughter of a famous record producer who is suffering through an on-and-off relationship with a boy she knows is just using her to win favor with her father.  In one of the movie's few palatable contrivances, Nick learns that Tris has been pitching his mix CD's into the trash, but Norah has been rescuing and listening to them approvingly.  

Nick and Norah meet after Nick completes a set on stage with his all gay band "The Jerk Offs."  Neither of them really fit in with their friends and so they discover an offbeat symmetry together.  The rest of the movie is a tribute to those endless nights of excess and self-discovery that many of us would like to forget from our teenage years.  Nick and Norah set out to find "Fluffy" an underground rock band who are performing at a mystery location circa 2 am that night.  In the process, their drunken friend Caroline goes missing and drags them off course as they scour the city looking for her.  None of what ensues is as funny as the filmmakers think it is, as we the audience are subjected to a relentless onslaught of vomit sequences designed to make us guess whether or not lost, drunken, Caroline is going to lose her dinner in an awkward place.  

Interspersed with this is the love story -- if you can call it that.  The names Nick and Norah are an allusion to Dashiell Hammet's witty detective couple Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man.  They were known for their witty, urbane banter and elegant fashion sense -- something that will never be remembered about Cera or Dennings.  Still, the two of them have considerable pseudo-grunge charm together and there's something sweet and genuine about watching them find themselves in each other.  

The benchmark for this film is really the 80's gem The Sure Thing, starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga as two warring college sophomores who are stuck on a cross-country road trip to California at Christmas time.  That movie was endlessly inventive and a model example of teen romantic comedy.  This one doesn't come close and in the end, even the music lets us down.  Fluffy's climactic performance is not the revelation we've all been waiting for and in fact the entire soundtrack is disappointingly unmemorable.  I guess we'll have to wait a little longer for a teen comedy that lives up to its own hype.