Nick likes Norah but Norah isn’t sure and Norah likes Nick but Nick isn’t sure. Both of them have hang ups with their exes (one, a sleeze, one, a slut), and both of them are afraid of trusting someone new. Both of them are B and T-ers who regularly retreat to New York to escape the mundanity of their pathetic suburban existences, and, of course, both of them are music junkies with the same rad taste in sweet tunes. This is the premise of the film adaptation of David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which follows one night in the lives of two totally awesome totally insecure teenagers from the Garden State. Co-written by two of the biggest names in the obscenely fast-growing genre of YA fiction, Nick and Norah shifts between Nick’s perspective (Levithan) and Norah’s (Cohn) as the night harrows on and the serendipitous lovers come together, fall apart, and eventually come back together to consummate. Ish.
The plot of the film is roughly so: Nick (Michael Cera, awkward teenage prince of the suburbs) has just been dumped by his too-hot-to-handle nymphet girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena, who at twenty-four wearing booty shorts and a negligee manages to look twelve years younger). His homo bros Dev and Thom (Rafi Gavron and Aaron Yoo), aka his gay band mates in a garage band called The Jerkoffs, drag him out of his indie-rock-room (all it needs is a Hamburger phone and we’re in Juno) to play a gig in New York. The pull factor for Nick, and the whodunit momentum for the rest of the film, is that the boys have been given a tip as to the possible location of a show featuring Where’s Fluffy, a presumably rockin’ indie rock band that plays weekly secret shows all over New York and is also Nick’s fav band. That night after the queercore band is done jerking off on stage, Nick sees Tris with her new beau and true to Cera-style doesn’t know how else to react but be awkward and filled with self-loathing.
Meanwhile Norah (Kat Jennings), plagued by an abysmally orgasmless teenage existence and jaded from life as the daughter of a famous record producer, likes Nick but Nick doesn’t even know her. A classmate of Tris’s, Norah is witness to Tris’s reckless abandonment of over two dozen breakup mixes made for her by heartbroken Nick. Without ever meeting him, Norah develops a stalker crush on this mysteriously pathetic boy with obscenely good taste in music and the ability to draw really, really sweet mixed CD covers. Fast forward to the hunt for Where’s Fluffy, Norah’s super fav band, and an embarrassing run-in with Tris, an oversexed babydoll wearing slut next to Norah’s lumpy boob sweater combination wearing prudeness. In an attempt to show Tris she is cooler than her frumpy outfit may indicate, Norah grabs and kisses Nick, thus instigating a whimsical adventure across downtown Manhattan to a light-hearted indie music backdrop.
For a film glued together by an infinite playlist, Nick and Norah’s falls surprisingly flat. Certainly a lot of the jingling and jangling going on as we fly by Astor Place and race past dozens of shiny yellow cabs waiting outside Bowery Ballroom is wonderful and appropriate, but the manifestation of a theoretically good soundtrack turns out rather mediocre. With the notable exception of Band of Horses’ “Our Swords” off their album The Funeral, the rest of the soundtrack is squelched beneath the dullness of the film’s dialogue or irreparably altered.
In addition to the weirdly edited soundtrack, randomly dispersed in the film are scenes laden with inexplicably inappropriate distaste. At a crucial moment in the night, Nick finds himself alone with Tris, who gets out of the car, and starts giving him an erotic dance next to the West Side Highway. The scene is so pedophilic that one can hardly help but feel creeped out. Only moments before we witness Caroline (Ari Graynor), Norah’s sister, fish around first for her cell phone and then for her already been chewed gum in the bottom of a public toilet filled with her vomit. After she manages to locate the gum, she, yes, puts it back in her mouth. With no explanation whatsoever as to its significance, the gum is later passed to Norah, and then to Nick. The last moment of wondrous magic that we get to witness comes at the end of the film, when Nick and Norah, after having decided they do, in fact, both like each other, and are sure of it, participate in sexual deviancy in Norah’s father’s studio. In one of the most awkward teenage sex scenes ever to grace the silver screen, Norah, whose ex-boyfriend has never been able to give her an orgasm, quickly overcomes her climactically-challenged past with the words: “Ohh! Ohh! Cold hands! Col—”.
Nick and Norah the book, which is riddled with pop culture references that draw on the familiar mythology of gay-Jews-listening-to-indie-rock-in-affluent-New-Jersey-suburbs, is a slim volume that manages to be both sassy and sweet. It fits nicely in the realm of bitchy-jaded-underconfident girl meets squishy-inexplicably-hot-and-slightly-gay boy but everyone is rad, and everyone is insecure, but then everyone gets over it and gets together. Formula aside, Nick and Norah the book succeeds in its warmth and sincerity while its film version is the interaction of two-dimensional teenage misfits who don’t know what to do but regurgitate stale lines. The biggest mystery remains at the end of the film: Why would anyone like Norah? Kat Jenning’s Norah is dull, insecure, and dead-panned throughout the entire hour and a half. Is it enough to have good taste in music and to not be a slut in order to make Michael Cera fall in love with you? You try it. Let me know how that goes.