Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is sweet, heartfelt, funny, adventurous, and not without a healthy dose of dumb. It is a film that quickly had me under its spell, but when you think about it afterwards, it is not quite as smart and different as you think it is. It is a movie that sells itself on its indie cred, reinforced by the indie/emo/punk music that fills the soundtrack.
The movie is quite harmless and sweet, the performances are generally good, and it does draw you in with the characters. So, what is the problem, you ask? Plot. Yes, this is definitely the biggest problem here. A necessary evil to be sure, but one that could have been approached a bit differently.
As the film opens we meet Nick (Michael Cera), a quiet high schooler who is struggling with being dumped by Tris (Alexis Dziena). He also happens to be the bass player in a band with a couple of his friends, and on this night, they have a three-fold mission. First, they need to get Nick out of the house to have some fun in New York City in order to get over Tris. Second, they need him to get his head on straight so they can play their scheduled gig that night. Thirdly, they need to find the secret location of a concert by Nick's favorite band, Where's Fluffy. Will they succeed? Will something unexpected happen? Tired of questions you already know the answers to?
Norah (Kat Dennings) is introduced next as she discusses the evening plans with her outlandish friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and sworn enemy, Tris. As it happens, those plans also include looking for Where's Fluffy. And just where is Where's Fluffy? Well, you need to make sure you have the radio on at just the right time, know where their other shows have been, and end up in the right bathroom stall, the one with the clue scrawled on the wall.
Back to the tale at hand. As it turns out, the club that Nick and his band are playing at just happens to be the same club that Norah and Caroline are at, not to mention Tris and her latest boyfriend. Fate steps in when Tris starts taking shots at Norah and her loneliness. In an act of desperation, she goes up to Nick, not knowing who he is, and asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend, leading to something of an awkward moment when everyone realizes who the other players are.
The night moves forward. Nick pairs up with Norah to track down the location for their shared favorite band's show while Tris, with boytoy in tow, pursues. It seems that Tris is addicted to the chase. On the other side of the plot is Caroline; we cannot forget about her as she is a sloppy drunk who runs off screaming into the night, almost begging Nick and Norah to track her down. So, the night goes on, the search for a band and the search for a girl provide the plot-driven backdrop to the budding romance in a yellow Yugo.
The film is horribly over-plotted to the point where my ability to suspend disbelief was stretched very nearly to the breaking point. My recommendation would be to think as little about the plot as possible, just accept it and move along. What truly makes the movie click is the chemistry between Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. Sure, Cera is playing a variation on the same character he always plays, but he is so good at it that it should not be held against him.
The two gradually grow closer over the course of the night. They talk, they learn about each other, they bond, and they help each other get through their issues in ways that no one else possibly could. This movie is about the discovery of your soul mate — a movie (and novel) that believes in soul mates, that two people can be destined to meet, making a perfect match.
While I found the plot to be distracting and the music not for me, it is hard to deny these characters their moment to shine. Then once you set the plot aside and allow the characters to possess center stage you will discover a screenplay that is a cut above your typical teen rom-com. An intelligence is revealed through words that do not treat the characters as idiots. They not always be the smartest words to say, but they suffuse characters with real thoughts and real feelings.
Bottom line. Plot aside, this is an infectious film with an intelligence that sets it apart. The lead performances are strong, and the film has a feel that makes it worth your time. I know I enjoyed it.