We all knew it was coming. In fact, there was no denying that the phrase “this year’s Juno” would get thrown around here and there, most likely by the professional quote whores that make up the legitimate film critics of the world. And who can blame them, a quote like that looks good on a poster. With that in mind, I headed in to see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a movie that shares quite a bit with the aforementioned darling of last year — it shares one star, Michael Cera, and a general hipster youth tone that is unmistakably catchy. But beyond that, I wasn’t expect it to be this year’s Juno — and it wasn’t. What it was though, was something that managed to capture the same sort of energy, an energy that will undoubtedly put a smile on the face of many a moviegoer.
The film’s story centers on Nick, played by Michael Cera, a bass playing indie rocker who was recently shattered by his love of nearly 6 months Tris, played by Alexis Dziena. In an attempt to help Nick get over his tarty former lass, his queer-rocker band mates, played by Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron, take him out on the town to play a gig and then go in search of a mysterious cult band called Where’s Fluffy? Along the way, they meet up with Norah, played by Kat Dennings, a college-bound daddy’s girl whose primary function appears to be babysitting her relentlessly drunk friend Caroline, played by Ari Graynor. In an attempt to not look like she’s unlucky in love in front of her friends (namely Tris), Norah asks a random guy to be her boyfriend for 5 minutes. It just so happens that she chooses Nick, creating a chance encounter that would send both of them on a night-long adventure through the world of love lost and found.
It certainly isn’t an incredibly original story — boy loses girl, meets new girl, continues to hold a flame for old girl, almost loses new girl, then ultimately ends up figuring out which girl is the right one for him. We’ve seen it a million times. The difference here is that Nick and Norah packs enough punch in other places to still be entertaining. In fact, it ultimately survives on the shoulders of its bright and shining young cast. Michael Cera, ever the newly anointed king of socially awkward moments, shows us the same sort of character that we saw in Juno and Superbad — but it still turns out to be just as endearing. The same can be said about Kat Dennings. Anyone who saw her in Charlie Bartlett will recognize this aggressive, sometimes spastic character, but they will all ultimately agree that it works. Even more importantly, they work together well, with Cera delivering wonderfully with one-liners and awkward glances and Dennings infusing a furious burst of energy into every scene. Ultimately, their powers combine to make for a fun, endearing central storyline that is flanked by some solid supporting performances, namely from Nick’s queer as folk entourage.
The only problem that I can see is that it might all work too well — this budding relationship between Nick and Norah never feels as if it is under any duress. If we take the Juno comparison, which is a fair one as both films have that same energy, we see the key difference in tension. In Juno, there were moments where the audience was led to believe that it might not all work out well. In Nick and Norah’s, we are never really put in a position to believe that the story won’t resolve itself in one particular way — it sort of breezes by and happens just as you might expect.
But that’s okay, because the other elements of this film, everything from the smart humor to the fantastic soundtrack, make it a worthwhile experience either way. If you are looking for a solid date movie or you are in the need for another cheerfully quirky romp through the New York scene, then this one should do the trick.
The Upside: Fun, endearing and filled with really smart characters driven by even better performances.
The Downside: It all feels a little bit too easy — so much so that the film never really delivers any sort of tension.