Normally, I'm not a fan of remakes, but hopefully in 20 years someone remembers Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and takes a go at it without all the Hollywood artifice that's been piled onto the fairly charming romantic comedy at its center. The only thing they'll need is a couple of young stars as interesting as Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, because they provide this overstuffed comedy with more than a fair share of charm. While their performances give us a sweet portrait of a burgeoning love that blooms over a single night in New York City, various sitcom-grade supporting characters and subplots keep threatening to butt in and derailing the picture.
Recently dumped by his longtime girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), Nick (Cera) burns mix CD after mix CD trying to woo her back to no avail. Nick's queercore band (Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron) drops by his house, attempting to shake him out of his misery with the promise of excitement in exchange for playing a show. It seems underground sensation Where's Fluffy is in town, and the band's gimmick is that astute fans will have to try to deduce the band's mystery venue with help from their social network. Norah (Dennings) is also on the hunt, along with her best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), who's more interested in getting drunk than anything. When Tris and her new boyfriend put Norah on the spot by challenging her alone-ness, she grabs the guy next to her and asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend -- and that guy is Nick.
It's clear from the pencil-drawn animated credits and the hip dialogue that Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist comes from the Fox Searchlight school of quirky independence, where Diablo Cody is the dean, but director Peter Sollett's crisply-shot New York City nighttime seems at odds with the screenplay's stilted comic stylings. Dennings and Cera follow suit, working around some of the most meticulously manufactured dialogue imaginable while remaining honest and real. Despite the movie's many tiresome plot developments, they avoid playing to character "types" and are easily the reason the movie held my attention all the way to the end.
But, oh, is this plot tiresome. Graynor's character gets lost while Cera's bandmates are trying to take her home, and so the movie forces Nick, Norah, and the band to go on a citywide search for her as she gets into supposedly comical mishaps involving train station toilets and fake deities. Graynor is pretty good, but her character arc never amounts to anything. The same goes for Cera's band: the inclusion of gay characters is laudable, but Yoo, Gavron and Jonathan Wright rarely get to provide more than dopey comic relief. All of this distracts from the "secret show" plot, which only pops up sporadically, and more importantly, distracts from Nick and Norah (and by the way, Where's Fluffy is a stupid band name). Alexis Dziena's one-note character also pops up at all the worst moments. She's a catalyst for Nick and Norah to feel bad about themselves who doesn't exhibit a single likable character trait. That may be the point, but it's hard to see why Nick -- or anyone -- would ever date her.
The other supporting characters aren't much better. In addition to Cera's unrealistic friends (do gay teens really have an emergency suitcase full of bras in their van just to help out bra-less girls their straight friends might be interested in?), we get an endless parade of cameos to distract the audience. SNL vets Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg, American Pie alums Eddie Kaye Thomas and John Cho (note to Aaron Yoo's agent: don't put your client in any more films with Cho lest someone figure out who they cloned him from), Frankie Faison and screenwriter Lorene Scafaria all drop in for a minute or two, with Kevin Corrigan even appearing wordlessly (although for the record, it's actually kinda funny). Jay Baruchel's thuggish boyfriend character also seems like it's meant to be important, but even his screentime couldn't amount to more than 10 minutes (his Jew-metal band's album cover is funny though). Musicians Devendra Banhart and Bishop Allen also show up to assure the movie's indie rock cameo cred.
And then, out of nowhere, we finally get almost 25 minutes of material featuring only Dennings and Cera, and while they exhibit solid chemistry as they're dragged or driving around the beautifully-shot streets of NYC, it's this portion above all where they really shine. I finally felt a connection to the movie, and even the conclusion of the other tired plot threads can't hide their unforced rapport. Their electricity is palpable, and everything concludes on a fairly solid note. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is a nice film with good intentions, and many viewers will enjoy it, but for awhile there, it's got the same problem as Nick does: too hung up on stupid things to see what's right in front of it.
A standard keepcase houses the disc, with clever cover artwork on the front wrapping Nick and Norah inside an iPod-headphone heart. The back is less inspired, with a predictably hyperbolic Shawn Edwards quote topping it off. A slipcover with the same artwork slides over the case and the disc features a full-color close up of the stars. The animated main menu and still-frame submenus are easy to navigate.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image starts out with what I feel is the signature "Sony" look. Maybe it's the contrast, but the day scenes look slightly darker than they should be, with the primarily white sky appearing gray and colors feeling kinda muted; everything's bathed in an odd artificial shadow. It's not that the image looks bad, it just looks strangely processed in a way that seems exclusive to many Sony titles. Once the picture moves to night, the effect is less apparent. During the nighttime scenes, colors are vibrant, with the lights of New York City reflected accurately. Detail is alright, although the camera filters might be lowering it a little and the digital image is not as crisp when things are in motion.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is crisp, with a solid balance of the songs, dialogue, and various sound effects throughout. As Nick and Norah spend most of their time in diners, rock clubs and on the streets of the city, the background creates quality atmosphere throughout. A French surround track and English and French subtitles are also provided.
There looks like there's a fair amount of stuff on the DVD for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, but it's more filler than filling. First up, we have Sony's good ol' autoplay trailers. This time we get Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, Center Stage: Turn it Up and "Girls' Night In" movies, which are also accessible from the special features menu.
Bonus footage from the film begins with deleted and extended scenes that run 10:23 and mainly features multiple takes of Graynor's drunk schtick and the various cameos in an attempt to recreate Apatow's "Line-O-Rama" reels, except most of the lines aren't funny (an entire minute is devoted to woman proclaiming "Oh, hell no" in different ways). 4:12 worth of outtakes is mostly Kat Dennings giggling at things.
Next, we have a couple of cast-created extras, but unfortunately neither are very good. As much as I like her (and bear attacks), "A Nick & Norah Puppet Show by Kat Dennings" (5:12) is kinda boring. "Ari Graynor's Video Diary" (3:56) provides lots of candid footage of the cast goofing off but little insight. "Faux Interview by Eddie Kaye Thomas" (2:50) takes yet another page from the Apatow handbook and does okay with it.
Two animated storyboard segments (9:01) are stunningly uninteresting -- Nick & Norah is not the most elaborate directorial effort of the year, so these storyboard segments look almost exactly like the final movie (although several characters have developed mysterious British accents). The second one even features a fair amount of footage from the movie, which adds to the inanity. Commentary by director Sollett and Editor Myron Kerstein doesn't really enhance the clips either. "Peter Sollett's Photo Album" features lots of nice pictures, but the concept of a photo gallery on a DVD has never seemed practical. A shot-on-set music video for "Middle Management" by Bishop Allen is the standard movie-tie-in clip reel of footage and completes the video features.
Lastly, we get two audio commentaries. The first has director Peter Sollett and stars Michael Cera, Kat Dennings and Ari Graynor. Despite some gaps of silence (edits created by cutting "telestrator"-related portions from the Blu-Ray commetnary), it's an easy listen that may be more entertaining than the movie and worth a spin for anyone who has the disc. Among the topics covered: Gavron's bone structure, cold and tired shooting days, Ghostbusters, the comedic value (or non-value) of rape, attention-grabbing extras, and Dennings' impression of the "Oh, hell no" lady from the cut bits. The other commentary gathers Sollett again, plus the book's authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan and screenwriter Lorene Scafaria. It's an okay listen, but the cast track is far better. The main draw is that it provides a lot more information than, well, anything on the DVD (Levithan even answered my question about the bra suitcase!). Of course, it's focused on the writing process, and although Nick & Norah doesn't need a third commentary, Sollett is mainly a moderator on both of these commentaries, and it's curious that he doesn't tackle a solo track to cover the nuts-and-bolts of production since nothing else on the disc bothers.
No theatrical trailer is included on this DVD. All of the bonus features -- even the two audio commentaries -- are also subtitled in English.
Despite its flaws, there's enjoyment to be had in what Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist has to offer, and while it's a shame the movie isn't better, despite my reservations I walked away feeling pretty good thanks to its two charismatic leads. While most of the bonus features aren't particularly edifying, the commentary with the director and stars paired with the qualities of the film are enough for me to recommend the film to viewers with reasonable romantic and comedic expectations.
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