Suburban Teen Dream ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ Turns 10

Michael Cera being charmingly dorky stands the test of time.
By  · Published on September 5th, 2018

While teen movies tend to be far from prestigious, that doesn’t mean they can’t be celebrated for the value they have while growing up. They inspire our interests, help us see the world, and visualize how we feel as a young person. Peter Sollett’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is no exception, which premiered at TIFF 10 years ago this week. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings run around New York City on a music-filled adventure, figuring out love along the way. Any young person can’t help but want to be in their shoes, especially those so far from the reach of a city. For rural and suburban teens, Nick & Norah was their perfect night and it’ll continue to be for generations to come.

Michael Cera, 2000s dorks’ heartthrob, plays the recently heartbroken bassist Nick. He adores pining over the girl who broke up with him, Tris, almost as much as he loves making mixtapes (on CDs). Meanwhile, too-cool-for-private-school Norah, played by Kat Dennings, gladly listens to the mixtapes Nick’s ex-girlfriend discards and has a huge crush on Nick’s taste in music. They’ve never met each other until one night Norah attends one of Nick’s shows to find the mysterious band Where’s Fluffy that promises to play a secret show somewhere in the city. The two end up driving around town looking for Norah’s drunk friend, escaping Nick’s ex-girlfriend, and having a lot more fun together than they expected.

For a young person trapped in a small town, Nick and Norah’s story is everything they dream about as they spend another night doing nothing adventurous, waiting for the day they can move to a place like New York City. This movie is the perfect embodiment of the naive thought that everyone in New York is cool, loves cool things, and has nothing but fun. Everyone in the movie, save for Nick’s shitty ex-girlfriend Tris, likes cool music (not the Top 10 pop hits or country music), drives eccentric beat-up cars, has reckless fun, and goes to an endless amount of interesting places throughout the night. Since we never get to see them any other time, it seems like this is what they do every weekend and to the teens listening to the same music Nick and Norah love but alone in their rooms, this is what they long for in their youth.

Despite the fact that everyone uses cell phones and listens to CDs in this movie, it has the ability for longevity just as other teen movies from the 80s and 90s are still considered cool to a lot of young people. The characters in Nick & Norah are obviously what people would consider in high school politics to be “unpopular,” so naturally everything they do is cool. They dress in thrift store clothes with someone else’s name stitched on them, trying to look like they don’t give a shit when they definitely do. They brag about who listened to what band first, trying to impress one another with their taste in music. They play awful music in bands, but it’s awful on purpose so it’s really cool. Their absence online will certainly become cooler as this movie ages, especially to kids that want to escape that aspect of generations to come. It’ll be a perfect tool for nostalgia for CD and flip phone days down the line.

Aside from its coolness, Nick & Norah is dripping with adolescence that’ll be tangible to any teenager in any generation. Sex is certainly present in nearly every scene but handled differently than it is in adult comedies and dramas. Kids joke about it and use sexual slang with ease, but everyone (especially Nick & Norah) still has the air of insecurity and confusion towards sex. Maybe for ratings, maybe for effect, we never see sex straight on; it’s still an exhilarating mystery to the audience, despite being referenced to a lot. This reflects how much the teens in the movie and the teens watching this movie know about sex.

Remarkably despite the fact that the movie starts out with Nick at the forefront of the story, the sexual exploration isn’t really his journey, as it would be in most young adult movies. Instead, the sexual awakening is for the female lead, Norah. In an attempt to discredit her, Tris points out there’s a rumor that Norah can’t have an orgasm. That subject is hardly ever discussed in films in general, let alone young adult movies. When Nick and Norah do hook up, it’s for Norah’s benefit only. To frank about anything relating to sex, Nick & Norah chooses the female orgasm and for that alone it could be an important teen film for a long time.

Introducing teenagers to sex is one thing, but Nick & Norah gives a glimpse of culture to kids far beyond a city’s reach. Proudly queer, Nick’s best friends in his band are all gay, without as many stereotypes as other comedies. For a lot of sheltered suburban kids, LGBTQ+ characters like Nick’s friends aren’t regularly accepted like they are in this story. They show Nick, Norah, and the audience drag shows, which a lot of audience members could be seeing for the first time. The nonchalant handling of queerness in a teen movie is pretty rare, even in 2008. We all know the representation matters, especially in movies for younger people and in a movie that really upholds an ideal view of city life.

To the tune of an amazing soundtrack, Nick and Norah run around a city like many of us dreamed we would be able to do after we leave home. The perfect amount of rebellion to still be safe enough to appeal to anyone, Nick and Norah’s night is a perfect teen dream. It’s a dream because nothing ever gets in their way of having quirky fun times, especially no bouncers asking for their IDs to get into the countless bars, venues, and clubs they go into. Regardless of where you’re from, you have the right to love these kinds of movies that romanticize the city without any jaded opinions that come after you experience the city. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist will certainly inspire teens to run to the city and fall in love with Michael Cera-looking guys for years to come.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_