Nick and Norah – Two Kids, One Mixtape, And a Crazy Night in NYC

Posted on October 9, 2008

Who wouldnt want to spend a crazy night in NYC?

Who wouldn't want to spend a crazy night in NYC? (Copyright Columbia Pictures, obtained from Wikipedia)

So – after passing the above poster in the subways all of last September, and much protracted curiosity and anticipation, I finally got to see Michael Cera’s new film – Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, about a pair of quirky teenagers who connect by means of serendipity, the chaos of the Big Apple, and (most importantly) the power of music. Though it wasn’t everything I expected, it had enough surprises and charming moments to make it worth my 90 minutes and popcorn.

The movie opens with Michael Cera’s Nick leaving a delightfully awkward voicemail for Tris (Alexis Dziena), his “sort-of” ex – vaguely attempting to bring closure to their mismatched relationship, even as he finishes burning yet another CD dedicated to her. His bandmates (“The Jerk-Offs”, though other charming names are later explored), convince him to join them at a gig on the Lower East Side, where he meets Norah (Kat Dennings), who, seeking to make a point, asks him to be her boyfriend “for five minutes”. So begins the tale, which meanders from the Bowry Ballroom to Union Pool, the East Village, Midtown, and back in search of a love, an intoxicated friend, and a band called “Where’s Fluffy”.

If I had only one word to describe this movie, it would be “awkward”. If I had another, it might be “earnest”. The former is definitely not always a bad thing – a good chunk of adolescence is all about awkwardness – spotting adulthood on the horizon, exploring your new-found freedoms, and (dare I say it) finding yourself. And at the moment, there are few actors other than Cera who perform so…awkwardly well. He manages to infuse his character with an array of lovable insecurities, which make you alternate between wanting to embrace him and shake him to his senses. Dennings is also reasonably good as Norah, who exhibits a pitiable codependency when not wielding her acerbic tongue. The two have a chemistry which is probably best described as “cautiously magnetic” – part of the movie’s fun is watching them slowly each other, drawing closer as the night moves on.

As for earnestness – the film strives for candor, but I greatly appreciate the fact that it doesn’t try too hard. Though these teens are pretty precocious (not one “adult” character in sight), they neither speak in a contrived patois of “cool”, nor do they act like miniature thirty-somethings. Also admirable is the fact that the writers, for the most part, steer clear of those two ancient cliches of “teen movies” – booze and uninhibited sex, and allow the story to develop more organically.

The film is not without its problems, though. The pacing is terribly uneven – whereas films like American Graffiti had strong plotlines that kept the ensemble cast on its feet, some parts of the film drag, almost as if the filmmakers decided to drop the cast and crew in the middle of the Village to see what happens. The dialog, while lovably awkward, is a bit sparse, and sometimes falls flat completely. When this happens, the actors stare at each other intently, as if waiting for someone to pick up the pieces of the scene. Also, the film’s two biggest costars – the location (New York in its nocturnal glory), and the bands (Bishop Allen, the Nellie Olesons, among others), felt woefully underused – as if tacked-on to the movie to give it more credibility.

Still, the fresh screenplay and the charm of the young cast make this make this romp through New York worth the trip to theaters, or at least the next spot on your Netflix queue. It will be interesting to see if this role (the uneasy adolescent) characterizes the future of Michael Cera’s career.

The Verdict: ★★★½☆ 

» Filed Under Everything and Nothing, Movies, Writing


One Response to “Nick and Norah – Two Kids, One Mixtape, And a Crazy Night in NYC”

  1. movie fanNo Gravatar on October 11th, 2008 8:11 pm

    there were some awkward moments in this movie that were hard to get past… such as every time that gum was re-used (yuck!)

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