Sunday, October 5, 2008

The never-ending search for hipster authenticity: notes on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

1. What does the title mean? Nick and Nora Charles were two famous alcoholics who starred in Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, which spawned a hit series of films. In this movie, Nick and Norah do not drink, but they are clever and witty, and they do hang out in several New York nightclubs.

2. Why Infinite? Because they never run out of songs to play for each other? Or because hipster aesthetics demand that they endlessly form the soundtrack for their lives? In the film, Nick obsessively sends mix cds to his lost girlfriend. We learn that one of them is called “Road to Closure: Vol. 12,” which implies the hopelessness of his love.

3. The opening crayon-like credits of Nick and Norah’s are creepily reminiscent of Juno. Both films seek homemade punk authenticity by featuring the Ramones in their mise en scene and Michael Cera as one of the leads. While Juno eventually gets weighed down by the responsibilities that come with childbearing, Infinite Playlist remains playful throughout, since the principals only need to worry about getting through one evening in New York, making the film a kind of After Hours for the Converse/Ipod generation.

4. Some have complained that Michael Cera’s recycling his schtick by now, but after the success of Superbad and Juno, who can blame him? His situation reminds me of John Cusack’s doubts of playing yet another teen heartthrob in Say Anything. Cera’s persona remains largely the same in all three of his films—innocent, watchful, intelligent, and endearingly incompetent with women. As I watched him act, the phrase “freshly-born chick” came to mind (the expression that Elvis used when he first saw Goldie Hawn). He’s the ultimate unthreatening sensitive male, and the doubt that registers on his face about the scene, the movie, his character, movie stardom, etc., gives him all the requisite authenticity he needs.

5. In comparison to Nick, Kat Dennings (Norah) looks embittered by experience, as well she should be after starring in that egregious rip-off of Rushmore that is Charlie Bartlett. Both Nick and Norah share a second-rate status, since Norah finds herself accepting the responsibility for her drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) during their evenings out and Nick still hasn’t gotten over Tris (Alexis Dziena). In effect, both Nick and Norah begin as minor characters and then gradually assume the lead. Their modesty gives Infinite Playlist much of its charm in spite of the predictable trajectory of its romantic comedy plot.

6. I liked the scene where Caroline drunkenly locks herself in Nick's Yugo, and looks out the windows as various people try to get her to open the doors. She seems tickled by all of the attention. Even though later she gets lost in New York, one never feels particular concern for her plight except when she drops her gum in her vomit and she needs it back.

7. When Nick uses Febreze to clean up after a drunken couple who mistook his Yugo for a taxi, did director Peter Sollett intend for us to think of Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver?

8. As the former girlfriend, Tris, Alexis Dziena skillfully conveys a mixture of jealousy and contempt towards Nick. She has never loved him, but when he appears to succeed with Norah, Tris resents this, and thereby seeks to win him back. She likes to play the object of attention, and it’s fun to see Nick waver between the real relationship with Norah and the fake one with Tris.

9. When Norah says “I’m not pretty like that,” Nick replies “No, you’re beautiful.” At that point, a large number of people in the theater went “Awwwww….” As a couple, Nick and Norah are mostly just awkward. Nick's best dance is the "blow dryer," when he simply messes up Norah's hair, yet their fumbling attempts at gaining affection define whatever authenticity that Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist attains.

2 comments:

nerd fan said...

I agree about Michael Cera's authenticity. He reminds me of every nerd I've ever known, but the ones that were sort of cute (and always smart.) I read somewhere that when he was waiting in line to appear on the David Letterman show that folks in the crowd waiting outside didn't recognize him as anyone other than someone waiting in line outside. Of course, he might be incredibly suave and be duping us all, but I just doubt it.

movie fan said...

there were some awkward moments in this movie that were hard to get past... such as every time that gum was re-used (yuck!)