Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist Poster

It's strange how the concept of two people wandering around a city at night falling in love has come of age in 2008. First, there was In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Now there's Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. Of course, Richard Linklater can claim to have pioneered the idea more than a decade ago with Before Sunrise, but where the Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy romantic comedy targeted adults, Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist is geared more toward teens, although that won't prevent older viewers with an affinity for romance from appreciating the vibes it gives off.

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist is being marketed as 2008's answer to Juno, although that's a stretch. Liking one film doesn't guarantee an affinity for the other. Plotwise, the pictures don't have a lot in common, but the prominence of Michael Cera in both makes it difficult to defuse comparisons. In fact, Cera appears to be playing pretty much the same character he portrayed in Juno (and in every other production in which he has appeared): a laid-back, earnest "nice guy." In casting Cera, filmmakers have certain expectations, and he delivers. The actor's Nick is sufficiently different from the book's version that a little reworking was required to allow for the less demonstrative personality. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is shaped like a kinder, gentler After Hours with a little of the aforementioned Before Sunrise thrown in for good measure. It's a romantic comedy for the iPod generation and has a soundtrack that will threaten to be heard in greater numbers than those who see the movie.

The premise is simple enough. Nick (Cera) is still pining after his ex-girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena, the naked girl from Broken Flowers), long after she dumped him. One Friday night, his buddies drag him out on the town (the "town" being New York City) in search of the secret site where his favorite band, Where's Fluffy, is playing a gig. Also going on this treasure hunt is Norah (Kat Dennings), who has a sort-of long-distance crush on Nick. Nick and Norah end up at the same club as Tris, who begins to toss verbal darts at Norah about her not having a boyfriend. Norah impulsively retorts that she has one, and nominates Nick for the role by kissing the nonplused guy on the lips. Tris is shocked and her interest in Nick is re-kindled by his sudden unavailability. (For Tris, it's all about the chase.) Meanwhile, Nick and Norah, forced together by circumstances, go in search not only of Where's Fluffy, but Norah's drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), who is missing in Manhattan.

At its heart, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a romantic comedy, and it never loses sight of that. To that end, it accomplishes the two most important things any such film must do: gets us to like the characters as individuals and to like them even more as a couple. There's ample chemistry between laid-back Nick and spunky Norah, and the two are given sufficient screen time together to allow it to smolder and smoke before catching fire. The relationship develops as the characters roll through a series of comically tinged misadventures before solidifying during the last 20 minutes when Nick and Norah, alone at last, are allowed to have their Before Sunrise moments. This is when the movie gels into something more magical than a generic teen road comedy.

The dialogue is witty enough to separate Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist from the rom-com continuum of dumb screenplays, but not so witty that it will receive a Diablo Cody-level backlash. Director Peter Sollett, adapting from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's novel, adeptly fashions a cinematic seduction that will appeal to both mainstream movie-goers and those who demand a little more. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is fresh without being alien and fun without being moronic. There are perhaps a few too many secondary characters and subplots and I could have done without the story of the traveling chewing gum. (Cautionary note: next time you swap gum with anyone, be sure you know where it has been.) Overall, however, it's hard to deny that the film is able to touch both the heart and the funny bone. Combine that with two winning lead performances and a top-notch soundtrack, and it's hard not to be bullish about Nick and Norah's city-bound road trip in a Yugo.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2008-10-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1