Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Tough Finding Love in the Big City When You're a Young Millionaire Movie Star

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
DVD via Redbox

First of all -- Rock Band does this too, and I won't be party to the continuing degradation of the English language. "Infinite" does not mean "really long," any more than "literally" means "really." Knock it off with your imprecise mix CD adjectives, you crazy kids.

Despite the annoying grammar of the title, and the fact that almost all of the music in the film itself is terrible, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist has a lot going for it as a training-bra romantic comedy. The leads (Michael Cera, superstar, and Kat Dennings, the sassy middle daughter from 40-Year-Old Virgin) are darling. The supporting cast, mixed between appealing youngsters and older actors you may recognize playing creepy middle-of-the-night New York types, is diverse and not predictable. And until the very end, the screenwriters' urge to insert forced speeches and hand-wringing is largely resisted.

Playlist is a perfectly watchable little movie, in short, if you can accept that it's totally ridiculous. Taking place in a fantasy Manhattan where you can drive anywhere from anywhere in 10 minutes and there will be parking right in front when you get there, it also features three of the most secure high school-aged gay male characters in the history of the universe (all in the same van!) and perhaps most unbelievably, a rich, white, drunk to the point of insensible girl who wanders around alone for most of an evening and doesn't get abducted, raped, or worse. Add this to the ubiquitous recent film conceit that if you're a character in a movie, even an underaged one, you can automatically gain entrance to any drinking establishment you choose without being carded, hassled, or even briefly delayed. There's a bunch of people in line at most of the places Nick and Norah go through during their magical night of love, but they're all just there for ambience. None of the kids who speak lines are getting carded! Having been kicked out of a Pavement show at the Double Door in 1996 despite being on the guest list, having prominent black X's drawn on both my hands, and carrying a letter from my high school's radio station's sponsor specifically explaining that I was allowed to be there, I didn't find this all that cute.

The thing about never being carded, or paying bridge tolls, can be attributed to movie magic. But Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist also has a bit of a weird aftertaste to it because the characters don't consistently behave their written ages. It's a major plot point that Dennings' Norah has never had an orgasm, although I don't know how unusual a complaint that is for an alleged high school senior who dates boys who look like Cera and Jay Baruchel. It could be a common effect among young kids with entirely absent parents who are allowed to wander around in the city all night long whenever they feel like it, but these kids seem to swing back and forth between high school, college, and young adult behavior. The gay trio seems to have more of the unleashed, celebratory attitude of the gay guys I knew in college far more so than the persecuted, vaguely passive-aggressive gay guys I knew in high school. The alcoholic party girl could be one of my 23-year-old sister's friends, although I hope she's not. Cera, who makes endless mixes for his ex ("Closure: Part 12") and has the hostile vibe of the high school punk musician internalized, is the only character who really scans fully as a teenager. That might also be due to the fact that the rest of the cast is largely actors in their early twenties.

The major issue Infinite Playlist has working against it, since all the anachronisms are common and forgivable ones, is the truly wretched soundtrack. For a story about two music lovers connecting over their shared passion, there is no memorable music anywhere in this film. The roster of tedious, reedy tenor voices anti-emoting over amateurish guitars and analog synthesizers never ends. There's one scene where Cera's ex is supposed to be definitively proving their incompatibility and she dances to Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing." The point the movie wants to make is that she listens to different music than he, so they're not meant for each other. The point it actually makes is quite different. It's the first use of soundtrack music for more than an hour that doesn't make you want to rip your ears off, Van Gogh-style. Boy, I feel for kids just starting out in college these days.

But maybe the moviemakers are smarter than that. At the end, Nick and Norah finally get to the party where the band they've been following all night is set to perform. They choose to leave together and miss the group rather than deal with the various negative characters all crowded into the room. I think in their eyes they're making a sacrifice, but it could well be that the whole point of the movie is that the music is just decoration for what's actually important. I don't think that's entirely true, but I listen to much better music than these kids.


  1. The explanation given in the book for the line-jumping is that Norah can get in anywhere she wants because her dad's a record exec. The book is better, btw.

  2. I thought she didn't want anybody to know that so she could be loved for herself. Also, that doesn't scan even a bit because the group is constantly getting separated and all meeting together inside clubs later, drinks in hand.