Reviews

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

A little cute, sure, but strikingly real -- or at least faked with a lot of heart.


Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Director: Peter Sollett
Cast: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena, Aaron Yoo
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2009-02-03

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, based on the young-adult novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, finds Michael Cera pulling his second cinematic all-nighter, following his breakthrough Superbad. Here he quickly absconds from the suburbs for New York City where, as young bassist Nick, he has a gig opening for real-life indie rock band Bishop Allen. Nick begins the evening heartbroken over his manipulative ex Tris (Alexis Dziena), but perks up when he meets Norah (Kat Dennings), a fellow music nerd looking after her drunk friend Caroline (scene-stealing Ari Graynor). Romantic comedy ensues.

Nick and Norah isn't nearly as riotously funny as Superbad -- nor, with its sweethearted teenage romance, as subtly touching as that film's graduating best friends destined for separation. But like Superbad, Nick and Norah's humor comes from natural inflections, believable characters, and genuine, unforced emotion. It's the rare movie about young people that doesn't feel calculated and test-marketed, even when the DVD provides ample soundtrack album promotion (with an internet connection and a Blu-Ray player, you can, essentially, send custom-made advertisements for the soundtrack to your friends).

It helps that the soundtrack does feel more or less true to the time and the characters, and that the movie includes fictional but credible musical acts of its own: Nick and Norah are both infatuated with Where's Fluffy?, a band that announces gigs via cryptic clues and sometimes ditches its fans with a less-loved act called Are You Randy? The movie depicts musical obsession with offhand ease; it's not really about playing music or loving a band -- it's not an indie Almost Famous -- but it understands those feelings.

A good deal of this honesty (and, in fake band construction, creativity) can be attributed to the source material, a young-adult novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The film version thankfully must jettison passages of Levithan's strem-of-consciousness overwriting -- Cera gets us into Nick's head with less fuss -- but also loses a little of the authors' flair for the halting, nervous rhythms of young love. Many scenes from the book's second half, with Nick and Norah fumbling through one-on-one relating, aren't particularly cinematic (though they worked well enough in Before Sunrise, an obvious ancestor of the novel), and the movie, to its credit, does give the characters some room to breathe; their relationship isn't all crammed into montages. But shortcuts are taken, and the film could use some longer dialogue scenes to take further advantage of Dennings and Cera's gift for small-talk and pauses.

The DVD's deleted scenes don't include any such additional reflection; apparently some of them stayed on the page, a casualty of Lorene Scafaria's otherwise faithful and accomplished adaptation. Instead, the extra scenes emphasize improvised comic bits: alternate takes and side gags from Graynor as well as cameo players Jay Baruchel and Andy Samberg.

The Blu-Ray edition includes two commentary tracks hosted by director Peter Sollett: one with Scafaria, Cohn, and Levithan; and another with Cera, Dennings, and Graynor. The filmmakers' track also functions as a book commentary of sorts, as all three writers discuss similarities and differences between the two works, and ask each other questions about where the characters, scenes, and changes came from. It's a refreshing change from the default commentary focus on the most mundane production details: shooting locations, casting, lighting set-ups. The filmmakers also speak about the cast coming together to support the material.

That closeness plays out on the giggly, noisy cast commentary. The young actors quip, talk over each other, and spend an inordinate amount of time explaining which sets, kisses, slapstick, driving scenes, vomit, et cetera, aren't real. At first, it sounds like they're sharing a private joke about whether audiences know how movies are made (by, you know, faking things), but after awhile, the delineations make sense: the actors, especially Dennings and Cera, are so natural, and so chummy on the commentary, and placed so well in actual New York locations, that the lines between character, persona, and real people all begin to blur.

The commentary also features a visual component: the actors can make onscreen pen marks, like the instant replay on a football game, technology they utilize primarily in service of doodling on the screen like it's a blackboard in a classroom. Dennings is particularly fond of scrawling "sexy" over her castmates, and elsewhere on the disc she enacts a puppet show version of the film; her version has far more singing and bear attacks. Even these diversions fit the movie: A little cute, sure, but strikingly real -- or at least faked with a lot of heart.

6

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image