The hipsters and the film snobs will tell you that there's all kinds of reasons not to like Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. When it was released last fall, it seemed to be greeted with all of the (mostly unfounded) ill will left over from Juno, star Michael Cera's previous project; the message boards and comment logs informed us that it was phony, or self-conscious, or cutesy, or whatever. It would seem that you were only allowed to like the movie if you were under 16 and tragically uncool.
Well damnit, people, I'm not made of wood. Street cred be damned, I thoroughly enjoyed Nick & Norah, a thin but charming rom-com that may not have much in the way of spontaneity but coasts considerably on the likability of its cast. Cera stars as Nick, earnest and lovelorn bass player of a drummer-less indie band. Nick was recently dumped by his pretty but shallow girlfriend Triss (Alexis Dziena), who throws him for a curve by showing up at one of his band's gigs on the Lower East Side. Norah (Kat Dennings) is at the show as well; she's taunted by her "frien-emy" Triss for being perpetually single, so in desperation, she makes like Nick is her new boyfriend. He goes along to make Triss jealous, but finds himself drawn to Norah, who is clearly much more his style than his vapid ex.
Their inevitable romance blossoms over the course of a long night in the city--yes, this is one of those "one long night" movies, a la Adventures in Babysitting. Nick and Norah are sent to figure out where the mysterious band Where's Fluffy is playing later that night, while Nick's bandmates take Norah's drunken friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) home. But Caroline disappears, and the Fluffy show is a fake-out, and of course Triss causes problems, as does Norah's sort-of boyfriend Tal (the always-welcome Jay Baruchel).
These complications are par for the course (although it would feel a little less telegraphed if they didn't have a character come out and ask, "What could possibly go wrong?"). Not all of the beats work--the romantic complications mostly feel like delays of the inevitable, and while the Caroline subplot gets the occasional chuckle, it also veers the film into an unfortunate detour of gross-out humor. There are also quickie cameos from a few comedy and indie film notables (including Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg), but they tend to distract more than enrich.
However, Cera and Dennings are so damned good together that the film plays anyway. Yes, Cera is basically doing a riff on Paulie Bleeker in Juno (which was basically a riff on George Michael on Arrested Development), but he's still wry, likable, and funny--I like how he attempts to explain away a personalized talk-up on one of Triss' mix CDs by mumbling, "That's just... not even real..." Dennings (so strong in Charlie Bartlett and The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is a good match for him, her whiskey-tinged voice and off-kilter timing playing nicely off his quiet desperation and half-hearted stammers. The film comes to life when it's just the two of them sharing the screen, and their chemistry gives the movie a leg up; you genuinely want them to end up with each other, and that's half the battle on a picture like this.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is solid if unspectacular. With much of the film taking place at night, we have an abundance of blacks offset by saturated neons; most make the transition fairly well, although the black levels occasionally get a little messy. Indoor scenes and car interiors are crisp, though the few daytime scenes are a touch on the flat side.
Attention has clearly been paid to the 5.1 audio track--a good call for a film with an emphasis on music and atmosphere. Music cues are lively and sharp, giving the track a nice bounce, while the abundance of traffic effects and club sounds are effectively immersive.
French subtitles and a French 2.0 track are also included, as are English closed captioning and, surprisingly, closed captioning for the cast commentary.
The Nick & Norah DVD comes loaded with special features, starting with a pair of enjoyable Audio Commentaries. One is cast-centric, with director Peter Sollett moderating cast members Cera, Dennings, and Graynor. Sollett returns on the second track, which speaks more to the production of the film with the help of novelists Rachel Cohn and David Levithan and screenwriter Lorene Scafaria. Both tracks are lively, informative, and often very funny; the cast and crew members seem to genuinely like each other, and their good cheer is infectious.
Next up is a helping of Deleted & Alternate Scenes (10:23 total). They're hit and miss; the first half are alternate scenes (with Apatow-style line variations in quick-cut format), and they provide some laughs, but most of the deleted scenes were wisely removed. A reel of outtakes (4:12) follows, and there are a few gems within (including a particularly funny moment when a pair of belligerent New Yorkers insist on walking through a scene).
"A Nick & Norah Puppet Show By Kat Dennings" (5:12) is exactly as advertised, a five-minute version of the movie (with added bear attacks), as acted out by Dennings and a cast of cutout paper actors. It's goofy, low-tech, and mighty funny. "Ari Graynor's Video Diary: A Look Behind-The-Scenes" (3:56) is a brief but cute handheld diary, with some decent rehearsal and on-set footage. "Storyboard Animations" (9:01) are next; these black-and-white storyboard drawings (with original, less polished dialogue) come with or without commentary by director Sollett and editor Myron Kerstein. They're mildly interesting, but your curiosity will probably run out before they do.
The "Faux Interview" (2:50) segment follows, with Cera and Dennings interviewed by briefly-seen cameo player Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie). The idea has potential, but it's not terribly well-executed--some improvisations work and, well, some don't. "Peter Sollett's Photo Album" of behind-the-scenes snapshots is a nice addition; these candid pics are unguarded, well-composed, and rather lovely. We also get a clip-heavy Music Video (2:52) for "Middle Management" by Bishop Allen, the song played in the club after the pair's first meeting. An assortment of Previews for other Columbia DVD releases are also included, as is a Digital Copy of the film for PSP, Mac, or iPods.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is based on a young adult novel, and sometimes the film is crippled by the simplicity of the source material. Everything pretty much works out as expected, with the right people happy and the wrong people put in their place. But what the film lacks in complexity it makes up for in good old-fashioned warmth and charm, thanks to its splendid cast and the loose, laid-back direction of director Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas). It's not the cure for cancer, but there are far worse ways to while away 90 minutes.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.