Friday, October 3, 2008

New movie I saw this week-Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a pretty frustrating movie. It has two endlessly watchable leads who are adorable together, a nice visual look, a terrifically engaging storyline, and some fairly good laughs. So why isn't it better than it should be? I think it's because other than its wonderful title characters, it's painfully hit and miss. An entire sub-plot with Norah's best friend flats flat on its face, the side characters of Nick's best friends have a couple of good moments, but could've easily been done without. Sub-plots with both Nick and Norah's exes work, but are underdeveloped. That said, I have to recommend this movie if only on the basis of Michael Cera as Nick, and Kat Dennings as Norah.

Nick is the bass player in a band with his two gay best friends in suburban New Jersey. They have a gig tonight in New York City, and who should show up at the gig but Nick's ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), who left him heartbroken a month ago. Nick still hasn't recovered, and doesn't even notice that another girl at the gig, Norah, was eyeing him as he was onstage. Turns out that Tris is the bitch at school that Norah has to put up with, and so as not to look like she came alone, Norah asks Nick to act like her boyfriend for a few minutes in front of Tris. Nick comes out of his stupor for a bit when Norah kisses him, and Nick's best friends take it upon themselves to make sure that Nick and Norah end up together (they hated Tris). All the while, a secretive show by Nick and Norah's favorite band is happening in the city, and they go on a night-long adventure to find the show.

The best friend characters are mostly there for comic relief I guess, except they're not very funny. Norah's best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) is an alcoholic that the movie tries to pass off as some old timey "funny drunk", but it comes off more as tragedy than anything else. Except the actress isn't playing tragedy, she's playing comedy. Hence the reason it doesn't work. The gay best friends, and the beefcake they meet at the gig, aren't as worthless. There's one particular moment as one of the guys is explaining to Nick how The Beatles had everything right, that's one of the best moments in the movie (because, of course, The Beatles did have everything right). The exes, Tris and Tal (Undeclared's Jay Baruchel), are both nicely played and both have some good moments with Nick and Norah, but as character's they're not developed as anything more than "the exes".

A movie like this cannot survive if the leads aren't engaging. Some people will say that Michael Cera is playing the same character he played in Superbad and/or Juno, but those people aren't paying attention. Cera plays different notes of the "shy nice guy" persona in each movie, this one being the most grownup and realistic. Just as John Cusack often plays different shades of the same character type, so does Cera. Nick is a good guy that has had his heart broken by Tris, but all he wants is to find love, he's just looking to the wrong person. Kat Dennings, as Norah, is given one of her first lead roles, and I can safely say that she's a huge star in the making. She shows an intelligence and passion to Norah (two of the hardest traits to believably pull off for an actor, I think) that intrigues both Nick and us in the audience. She's not just "the girl" in this story, she challenges Nick and eventually wakes him from the coma that Tris had put him in. It doesn't hurt that she's also incredibly gorgeous. There are multiple occasions in the movie where characters say that Norah isn't in the same class of beautiful as Tris, but maybe it's because we're so in love with Norah at that point, but Tris looks like Ernest Borgnine in comparison. One small thing I'd like to single out, there's a moment near the end, where Nick and Norah silently give each other a little smile, that is absolutely sublime. Don't go running out to see Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, but it's worth a look at least, I just wish that the movie had followed just these two characters and done away with everyone else.

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