Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist isn’t actually infinite; it just seems like it. In reality, it’s 90 minutes long—a very long 90 minutes. Despite its title, the film has nothing to do with the characters of Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, nor those characters’ screen incarnations, William Powell and Myrna Loy. (I guess the “h” on Nora is the tip-off.) Indeed, it seems improbable that any of the characters in this movie ever heard of Hammett, The Thin Man or Powell and Loy. But then there’s a veritable litany of things I suspect these characters never heard of.
What we mostly have here is this year’s attempt at Juno—minus the teen pregnancy, likable characters or clever screenplay. This leaves us with … not very much. The plot is a lopsided amalgam of lots of other movies. Imagine, if you can, a knockoff of Chris Columbus’ Adventures in Babysitting (1987)—with the level of cleverness dumbed down to zero—combined with Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985). Now, take that and run it through the Richard Linklater slacker-izing machine, toss in the oh-so-not-funny impediment of a drunk friend, craft a smattering of faux-Diablo Cody Juno-speak, sprinkle with some generic teen angst, rip off the escalator ending from Superbad, and drown the whole thing in banal pop music: Et voilà! You have Nick and Norah’s Infinitely Derivative and Annoying Playlist.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’m probably too old to comment that effectively on the film’s musical choices. I knew who they were talking about when the Cure was referenced, but as far as the soundtrack itself was concerned, I only recall identifying two songs: one by Dusty Springfield and one by Hot Chocolate (and no, I’m not proud of the fact that I can ID “You Sexy Thing”). Someone else’s take on the movie’s musical program might be different than mine as a result, but that doesn’t change the fact that the music just seemed to be there. It wasn’t used creatively. It didn’t enhance the action or the characters. And the film certainly didn’t enhance the music. That seems a significant failing in a film with this title.
The story is never more than adequate. Nick (Michael Cera) is the only straight guy in an otherwise gay rock group (an odd position for someone who tends to freak out if anyone thinks he’s gay). He has broken up with—and is broken up over—Tris (Alexis Dziena, Fool’s Gold), a Teen Movie 101 heartless bitch we’re meant to detest on sight. When Tris breaks her promise not to go anywhere that Nick’s band is playing, Nick is even more upset. Oh, but the script intervenes. Heartless Tris has been picking at her “friend” Norah (Kat Dennings, The House Bunny) for being boyfriend-challenged, so Norah presses Nick to pretend to be her boyfriend—little realizing that Nick is the guy who made all those wonderful mix CDs for Tris that Norah’s been rescuing from the trash. To give the right impression, Norah kisses Nick for effect—and she hears violins (or whatever the hip variant on that might be).
Of course, this doesn’t mean smooth sailing. Oh, goodness me, no. Problems abound—mostly in the form of Nick’s unfortunate tendency to prattle on about Tris, the occasional intrusions by Norah’s semi-boyfriend Tal (Jay Baruchel, Tropic Thunder), attempts to discover just where a band called Where’s Fluffy is playing and the “hilarious” drunken antics of Norah’s friend Caroline (Ari Graynor, For Your Consideration). That last (much of which is lifted from Adventures in Babysitting) eats up a lot of time—and why not? After all, nothing’s funnier than a sloppy drunk fishing her chewing gum out of a public toilet she’s just puked in, right?
Perhaps the film’s biggest problem lies in the decision that these are high-school kids. Even apart from the usual problem inherent in twentysomethings pretending to be 17, the whole concept of the film would likely work better if these were college kids. Among other things, the film offers scarcely a hint of these kids having parents or any kind of authority in their lives. Norah has a never-seen, rich and influential father, but that’s it. Everyone else seems to exist entirely on his or her own with no one to answer to for being out all night in New York City. Similarly, by the logic of the script, Norah has been in a relationship with the obviously much older Tal since she was 14. No wonder she looks a bit like Dracula’s daughter and talks like Ally Sheedy.
The film attempts to coast on the inherent charm of its stars, Cera and Denning. The former undeniably has charm, but it might be pleasant to see him play something other than essentially the same character in every film. Denning, on the other hand, is somewhat less charming, but then she’s stuck in the slightly dark, rebellious teen mode (see The House Bunny, Charlie Bartlett etc.) and this is just another such role. Still, without them, Nick and Norah would be close to unwatchable. Even with them, it’s little more than a snarky, self-satisfied, slightly painful stab at hipness of the flavor-of-the-week variety. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.