Feb 1, 2009

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist [12A]

Dir: Peter Sollet
‘Cool’. Some people are simply cool, I’m not one of them, but I know this much, trying to be cool only demonstrates, and ensures, that you aren’t. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist would have done well to learn that lesson, because for its entire 90 minute running time it strives desperately to be cool, only to end up underlining how utterly unremarkable it really is.

The story is breathtakingly simple. Nick (Michael Cera) was dumped by his girlfriend (Alexis Dziena) a month ago, and his bandmates (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) are sick of him being depressed so when Nick meets Norah (Kat Dennings) after his gig his friends contrive to get them to spend the night together in New York. It’s Before Sunrise for indie kids, only not very good.

The main problem with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is how completely contrived it all feels. The main characters first meeting, for example, has Dennings simply walking up to a random guy to kiss him, proving to Dziena that she has a boyfriend and, guess what, she happens to pick on Cera, Dziena’s ex. Yes, the ‘meet cute’ is always contrived, but this one especially so. It doesn’t help that there is no chemistry between Cera and Dennings whatsoever, be it romantic or comic. Both have shown themselves to be capable and charming comedians before, but here they flounder, and rather than spark off one another they end up dampening down both the humour and the romance.

The other big issue with the leading performances is their familiarity. Cera has now played the same nerdy stereotype in three films on the trot (Superbad, Juno, and this), while Dennings gives the exact same performance she did in both The 40 Year Old Virgin and Charlie Bartlett. There is nothing terribly wrong with the acting (though Dennings’ nasal voice is an irritant), except that we’ve seen them both before, recently, and better.

The Infinite Playlist of the title is provided by an endless array of indie bands, whose music underscores every scene. Director Peter Sollet doesn’t have much idea how to use the music, so he leans on it as a crutch, letting the soundtrack tell us how to feel. In its quest for cool points the film also shoehorns in awkward cameos for the band Bishop Allen and Devendra Banhart. The one smart musical decision the film makes is that it never shows us the band that Cera, Dennings and their friends spend the whole night trying to find. Where’s Fluffy? (which, by the way, almost beats It Hugs Back for the title of worst band name of all time) would have to have the messiah on vocals to be even half as good as the film implies, so it’s a relief we never see them.

The film unfolds exactly as you’d expect. They meet, they don’t like each other, then they like each other, then they have an incredibly forced falling out, then they like each other again. It’s just so rote, but the problem isn’t that it’s rote, it’s that it’s utterly unconvincing. The fact there’s no connection between the actors means the relationship never works, and you never care if Nick and Norah hit it off, rather you wish they’d just hurry up and kiss so that the music can swell on the soundtrack and you can leave.

There are a handful of good lines, but Cera and Dennings’ monotonous performances never really sell them, but Ari Graynor does well in a thankless role as Dennings’ drunk friend, and Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron manage not to make their gay characters mere stereotypes. But these are small victories in a film that fails to work as a whole.

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