Bottom Line: Predictable but usually entertaining Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist relies too much on regurgitated characters (that have seen their wittier, more endearing days) to be memorable.
This romantic comedy, shamelessly aimed at Juno fans, is about indie music and people who like it. The names of bands like Bishop Allen (who also make a cameo), Vampire Weekend and Devendra Banhart appear in the opening credits, making sure it’s clear that the producers, directors and writers are really hip. And, really, it never rises above that.
The film is about a chase around the Big Apple for Norah’s (Kat Dennings) friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor), who wanders away drunk after a show. Along the way, they hit all the requisite hipster spots like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and The Bowery Ballroom. Naturally, zany adventures follow (including to a gay-oriented revue of The Christmas Story and being threatened by homeless people). While they search for Caroline, Norah and Nick (Michael Cera) pursue their favorite band. It all ends with Nick and Norah realizing they are perfect for each other… because they have the same taste in music.
The plot is contrived but more so are the characters. The actors fall into the same roles we’ve seen before. Cera, bass player in an alt-rock band, is a pretty oblivious guy who’s nursing a broken heart. In a post-screening interview, he said his acting and comedic styles have been the same since Arrested Development. Like her roles in The House Bunny and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Dennings has a tough exterior and snappy tongue; but, deep down, she is vulnerable and just wants to be loved. All the while, Nick’s bandmates bring us back to a time before Ellen DeGenerers by embodying every gay stereotype out there. The characters are summed up perfectly in the film when an angry Dennings says to Cera, “They make action figures out of you.”
Ari Graynor is the only standout of the film. She’s the driving force of the plot, keeping the film from lagging in pools of teen self-pity and self-doubt poured on heavy by the main characters. Whether she’s bumming a sandwich off a stranger, running around a parking lot thinking she’s been kidnapped or seeing the messiah, she brings surprising depth and believability to material that gives her little to work with. Unlike Dennings, Graynor’s vulnerability is shown rather than spoken.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist will have a following because its characters are a rehash of Juno — the house Nick lives in even looks like the one from Juno. Sadly, the less-interesting plot gives the actors nowhere to hide. Whereas Ellen Page’s performance in Juno gave the film heart, Kat Dennings’s performance fails to rise above disaffected, high-school youth.
It’s hard to carry off a character-driven romance with boring characters. The end product is fast-paced enough to be enjoyable but bland, with a hella awkward sex scene.