Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: A-
I feel like I'm rarely surprised by movies any more. That's part of the problem when you love something; you become so passionate about your love, it becomes an obsession (and not always a healthy one). You rarely allow yourself the opportunity to let your love just be. You can't allow any room for breath, for a sense that something startling might happen because you've replaced wonder with suffocation. You've replaced a certain sense of childish thrill with a depth of knowledge that you use to drill down in order to see and observe and attempt to understand all the minutiae and pedestrian pieces that make up your love.
I read every review (thanks Movie Review Query Engine!); I Google multiple articles about various directors and writers and actors; I peruse the weekly box office receipts and then I decide to review the previous 3-5 years as well; I scan Variety and Entertainment Weekly and other magazines ruining the element of surprise in film after film. The Internet has only further exacerbated my intensity of interest. I can check on banal film facts in a mere minute thanks to my trusty IPhone. But what I can't do is be surprised. I can't just feel that little pop in my eyes when someone shows up in a film unexpectedly. I can't get the hairs on my forearms to stand at attention. I can't get that little jolt that shimmies up from the belly and shocks the brain like when you close your eyes on a swing and lean way back, feeling the rush go to your head. It just doesn't happen.
But I felt Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. I felt it deep in my organs like when you sit beside the fire place feeling the warmness of the fire seep into your skin and deeper after you have shuddered through the wicked Northeast winds that whip across your body and lash you on a violent January evening. Now, a week later, I still feel it. It's not a vivid memory; it's a bit too fuzzy and indistinct in certain areas. It's more the mood of a dreamscape that you can't shake and find yourself pondering in a hazy, grinning reverie, sharp images and language fused with a loose and nimble euphoria.
It's a movie about the soul's awakening to possibility; about the joy of discovery, and the selfish altruism you exhibit when you bestow your discovery on others; about love and holding hands and bonding over music like your life depended upon it, the verses and the chords medicinal, fighting to keep the personal sickness at bay, each new discovered track another immunization against life's relentless relentlessness as it tries to steamroll you on its way to the next person. It's about finding Fluffy, the elusive band the film's characters try to track down during their all night trek around New York City. But the mysterious Fluffy is nothing more than the MacGuffin that leads everyone (including the audience) down the rabbit hole and it's no coincidence the band's white rabbit symbol evokes Lewis Carroll's classic tale; it works to propel the film's sense of squandered possibility when individuals embark on an odyssey and they do all they can to ignore or deny the existence of something magical. "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" the rabbit intones and I cannot imagine there isn't a viewer out there who hasn't felt the galvanizing anxiety that life is swiftly passing by until it is too late: all windows of opportunity have been slammed shut and locked, whether due to mental barriers, personal foibles, physical impediments. So while Nick and Norah might be a blast of pure high fructose cinematic corn syrup, it amazingly refrains from a sickening sweetness due to its purity of spirit that practically calls out for everyone to just go for it: follow your heart and make your dreams come true. Simplistic idea to the core yet it retains a strong kernel of truth because while the directions might be easily understood, it doesn't mean the road won't be bumpy as all hell (is that a mixed metaphor or what?).
Michael Cera portrays Nick, a broken-hearted suburbanite from Hoboken pining for his ex, Tris. I've never been a huge fan of Cera's, but I'm no hater either, and he does a great job here. Rather than make Nick some whiny, pathetic, emasculated loser who might as well be a eunuch, Nick is a self-conscious indy music geek who plays bass in a band with his gay best friends. I wouldn't mention the sexuality of the friends if it wasn't such a delight to see the sexual orientation of the two defined in such an off-hand manner that bespeaks of the great empathy both demonstrate towards their straight friend as they work to help Nick realize just how much he has to offer others, while protecting him from his own worst impulses (the worst of which is getting back together with his cheating ex girlfriend). As they tell Norah, "Nicky is definitely worth the underwire."
The plot gets set in motion when the three of them play a show in Manhattan, where Nick meets Norah, who has already been introduced to us at the private school she attends with Tris and Caroline, her best friend. We know Norah and Nick are made for each other since Norah snatches out of the trash the elaborately decorated and dramatically titled mix CDs Nick makes in a vain attempt to win back Tris. The character of Norah is a bit of a writer's fantasy; the cool outcast who's rich (her father is some big-time music man) and gorgeous (but no one seems to notice), and in real life she wouldn't exist in such a manner. But actress Kat Deelings
Not the most elaborate of dress to hang a movie upon, but the film isn't about plot, but mood and frequency. And for whatever reason, I was tuned in to the right channel when I watched everything play out on screen. For nearly the entire time I felt that sweet sensation of discovery like when you hear a song for the first time and every single note, every single lyric, every single second of mellifluous magic builds and builds towards an emotional/physical/spiritual deluge that bursts out and washes over you and sloughs off the old you. It happened just last weekend when I heard Ray Lamontagne sing live "Joleen" and "Let It Be Me" underneath the stars or when Band of Horses played "No One's Gonna Love You" as the San Diego sun decided to go to lay down to sleep. Transformative: that's the feeling, and while Nick and Norah didn't equal those experiences, it touched upon them nonetheless. And in this day and age of cinematic overload, that's meaningful to me.
Bits and choice pieces continue to simmer in my mind. Andy Samberg, doing his best "Saturday Night Live Mark Wahlberg impersonation", makes a hilarious cameo as a deranged homeless man who encounters Nick ("You're like a little canary in skinny jeans, huh . . . Hey, let me ask you a question. You ever hook up with a dog? Don't. It's not worth it. I like you so much."). A running joke involves Nick's yellow Hugo, which at one point gets mistaken as a cab by a drunk man and woman who proceed to furiously make-out in the tiny back seat while Nick and Norah try to manage an honest conversation (Seth Myers plays the man: "I love you so much it's retarded.") Nick telling his friends he doesn't want to go into the city to play a gig: "I don't want to go. I'm taking a mental health day." Norah's best friend, the trashed Caroline, telling a male train attendant, "I was kidnapped tonight. Seriously. And this band with these guys talking about going 'balls deep.' Sounds like fun, right? Not always." Other minute facial expressions and modest gesticulations and voice modulations pile up, but I'll let you watch the film and make your own decisions regarding your enjoyment.
The film isn't perfect by any means, but its flaws only amplify what it does so right versus wrong. And what it does right is spark into existence the simplest, and yet most meaningful, of life's pleasures: holding hands with the one you love, taking a leap into the void, and making something from nothing.