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Download the Infinite Playlist, skip the film

by Glen Baity

Inside the imagination of every music geek dwells a singular fantasy: that some beautiful set of eyes will one day scan the contents of his or her iPod and look up in disbelief, gasping, “No way! You like Devendra Banhart too?!” This sort of thing doesn’t really happen in real life, where Hell is other people’s taste in music. But in the movies, two starry-eyed kids can fall in love over a mixtape, or its bratty kid brother, the playlist. So it goes for Michael Cera and Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a lightweight rock n’ roll love story for people too young to remember High Fidelity.

The film unfolds over the course of one long Friday night in New York City. Nick (Cera) loves indie rock and moping over his ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), who just dumped him for some pretty-boy arm candy. But he snaps out of it after a chance encounter with Norah (Dennings), Tris’ classmate who has already developed a crush on our boy — Norah’s a bit of a rocker herself, and she digs the many mix CDs Nick has pushed on his entirely uninterested ex (these mixes come with intricate cover art and titles like Road to Closure: Vol. 12). Will Nick and Norah be able to get past the uncomplicated complications in their way and live happily ever after? Oh, I wonder. So there’s no will-they-or-won’t-they, but Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a pleasant enough little movie, even if it’s lighter than cotton candy. The plot, or what passes for it, revolves around an effort to locate Norah’s drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) in time to make it to the super-secret show by a mythical band called Where’s Fluffy? On the way, Nick and Norah discuss their crumpled love lives and their intertwined musical destinies, all scored to a Pitchfork Media-approved soundtrack of Vampire Weekend, We Are Scientists, Band of Horses and numerous others. The feel is something like Empire Records meets Adventures in Babysitting, and if you’re in the right mood for it I imagine you’ll find something to like here. The film, however, doesn’t invest much in its characters, and as a consequence Nick and Norah doesn’t ring as true as it probably aims to. For the most part, these are just teen-movie archetypes orbiting each other, Dennings a likeable amalgam of the hipster and the rich girl, and Cera a weird hybrid of John Cusack and Anthony Michael Hall. As usual, he’s awkwardness defined, and for me it’s still endearing, but I’ll acknowledge that as an actor he’s spinning his wheels a bit in this role. Aside from Graynor, who scores some good laughs, the supporting players are so much static in the background, unmemorable, slightly annoying and everpresent. The film is staged in a fantasy New York, devoid of danger and apparently only three blocks wide, as these kids keep running into each other throughout the evening. Because the writing is on the weak side, and Nick and Norah don’t really have much chemistry (unlike the characters from The Thin Man that I assume are their namesakes), there isn’t much to carry the film beyond a few sweet moments and its soundtrack. While there are some great songs here, they’re aggressively crammed into every space without dialogue, giving the film a strangely frantic feel, as if it’s more interested in selling you on its coolness than in telling you a good story. As a result, you’ll probably feel like you’ve just spent 90 minutes with a 17year-old who just heard the best band, dude, you gotta check ‘em out! Similarly, Nick and Norah feels like a lot of wasted enthusiasm, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t something endearing about it, maybe because I’ve been pushing mixtapes on barely-tolerant friends since I was 15. If you’ve ever waited in vain for someone to appreciate how awesome your musical taste is, the film is a small dream fulfilled.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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