Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (or: "I'm Getting too Old for this $#!&")

I'd read a good review or two for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist", and while some of the items the reviewer called out as genius didn't sound all that genius to me, I figured that when Jamie wanted to see a movie on Friday night, a comedy was a better bet than grim western "Appaloosa", which I still want to see.

Friday is the one night I dread for going to the movies. It's people getting off work and "going out", but NOT just going to a bar to talk. Instead, they tend to go to the movies to talk. And so it was that the couple next to us showed up, on what appeared to be a first date or a date early on in a relationship.

A minute into the movie, the gentleman explained to his date, at full volume, why he never takes a personal day (apparently, they're for wimps...), and that he doesn't need time off to deal with his personal problems, unlike Michael Cera.

I had to ask them to shut up. Which, I hope, somehow put the first negative spin on what I was hoping would be a cratering evening for the pair.

by the way: HEAVY SPOILERS

Here's the plot to "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist":

High school senior Nick is dumped just before the movie begins by his girlfriend that none of his friends like. Norah doesn't know Nick, but goes to school with his ex. Nick and Norah meet at a bar where Nick's band is playing in a "only in a movie" meet-cute. Nick's pals realize that Norah is perfect for him (why, we are never told) and set them up, while they try to take Norah's drunk friend home to free their pal up to maneuver.

Nick and Norah kinda/ sorta travel around New York looking for a "secret" show by the impossibly hip sounding band "Fluffy Bunny". Drunk girl escapes and causes problems for all. To nobody's surprise, despite a handful of disagreements, Nick and Norah hook-up, which is movie-speak for "fall in love".

The End.

I wasn't a fan of the movie.

If I were between, maybe, 13 and 23, I think maybe I would have found it more entertaining, as the movie paints a very idealized version of teen-age love. And, honestly, in a world of post-Clueless, Mean Girls, American Pie, what-have you... at least this movie kinda-sorta felt at least a bit natural rather than frankensteined from pieces of a Hollywood screenplay morgue.

The acting of the young cast was naturalistic, the actors sort-of looked age appropriate, and it was mostly free of the gelled-LA-thing that permeates so much of teen-fare, no matter where the movie is to take place. This movie is very firmly entrenched in the world of kids from the suburbs of Manhattan who regularly come into the city on weekends to rock out. And one gets the feeling that this world is very real, but as foreign to me as a movie from Bollywood.

I think relate-ability is kind of where the movie started to fall apart for me. And then it all came back full circle with the feeling you were watching friends on a night out who are just being annoying (all too relate-able).

Neither titular character has much in the way of a spine, and is loosely defined as "the nice one" from their little gang. Which means both spend the first part of the movie going with whatever flow others impose upon them (not all bad for a high school "it happens in one night" flick). But when together, the two seemed sort of oddly passive-aggressive with one another, to the point where you don't necessarily see WHY the movie is insisting these two belong together.

Like the Peanuts gang, there's very little in the sense of any adult presence, and no parents are seen (which makes sense, in context), but as the movie is about kids, the lack of any 4:00 AM calls from parents wondering where the heck their angels were didn't make me necessarily feel the movie was disingenuous... but it also informed me that the movie was about those kids you meet in high school who are shocked (shocked!) to hear that your parents care where you are as their parents would never, ever ask.

It's also established early on that Norah and her friend are rich kids, who apparently go out to clubs that serve minors, and who kowtow to Norah because her father is some mysterious but important character (which, when its revealed who the guy is... doesn't really follow that Norah would be a 17-year old given access to any club in the tri-state area, etc... at least not in 2008).

I'm aware there is such a sub-culture, and perhaps things are different in Manhattan amongst the rich kids (that seems to be the case from Metropolitan to Gossip Girl. The movie "Kids" would inform you that a lack of parental oversight is simply commonplace in all five burroughs, cutting across class and race). It just, in no way, felt like a high school movie to me despite the grounding of the kids as high school seniors. Again, lack of relatability. Maybe if they'd been in the first year of college, but...

A large part of the plot revolves around all of the characters trying to track down Norah's pal, Caroline, who is the prototypical drunk high school girl (which is not as cute and funny as the film assumes). The movie makes little effort to make Caroline sympathetic, and so it's a bit odd that the audience gets dragged along for so much of the enabling B-plot.

The other B-plot is the relationship we're supposed to believe Nick had with his ex, "Tris", which the movie maybe doesn't need to explain why Nick was so ga-ga for the girl (we're told she's really good looking), but it would have helped. Especially as the movie relishes so much in showing how she's an awful, awful person. But it would have been nice to see SOMETHING about her Nick was supposed to like. The actress playing Tris also seemed suited better for a "Mean Girls" style flick, and sort of stood out, but I thought that was kind of the point (even if I didn't really agree with it).

Tris is also really awful to Norah before Nick ever enters Norah's picture. This is never explained, and seems, kinda/ sorta unnecessary.

Really, motivation for pretty much anybody doing ANYTHING in the movie is sort of up in the air. We're never really sure why Nick's pals decide that Norah is the girl for him. And as the movie sets up a pretty great number of conflicting moments between its titular characters (all of which Nick must back down from), why these two are supposedly such a perfect pair is kind of left up to the imagination. Especially when both of the characters seem like doormats for everyone else in the movie, and both have someone else vying for their attention.

In fact, I walked out of the movie wondering how Nick hadn't just set himself up to be a doormat for yet another girl, this time with more to hang over his head than the girl who was merely good looking. He sort of backs down to everyone in the movie, and doesn't really stand up for himself to Norah when, really, they're both being bratty, but Norah has no particular moral high ground. One foresees the first-month-of-college phone call in Nick's future where his girlfriend dumps him for a barista named "Iggy" who isn't a total push-over and who introduces her to bands equally as obscure and cool as Fluffy Bunny.

Because the movie is in love with name-dropping of music as only high schoolers can do (and the editors at Pitchfork), there's a suggestion that their mutual love of Fluffy Bunny is some sort of cosmic sign. Your mileage on this may vary. It's not that I don't buy high schoolers buying into this sort of thing, but as an adult... it seemed a tenuous connection at best.

Those looking for the same sort of gin-induced banter and hi-jinks one might have found between Nick and Nora Charles of the "Thin Man" films, you're going to be disappointed. I'm not suggesting that Michael Cera and Kat Dennings don't have good on-screen chemistry as two crazy kids who fall for each other in the scenes where they're not squabbling. But their dialog and interaction is a far cry from whatever the title was suggesting we'd get out of the pair. Luckily, the chance that most of the audience has seen a Thin Man film is nearly next to zero. Crisis averted.

Aside from the building romance, there's just not much plot to hold onto, and part of me was more interested in what the story was with Nick's bandmates and the fellow they'd picked up. (By the way: It's 2008, the black magical friend for teen movies has been replaced by the gay magical friends.)


The movie decides its important that Nick and Norah actually consummate their newly acquired love. Perhaps not unrealistic for teens in any day or age, but I wasn't entirely on board with that particular decision by the filmmakers, either. Mostly, it told me more about the folks who made the movie than about the characters, and what they saw as a necessary and natural step at the end of the flick.

But one I saw as potentially messy for everyone involved. Nick had, after all, been brooding over a completely different girl about five hours before and learned Norah's last name about fifteen minutes before. Not to mention Norah's somewhat own tumultuous evening. So... I dunno. It just felt... weird. And kind of desperate. As an audience member, I sort of wondered if either Nick or Norah were going to feel sort of weird about things the next day.

I was equally confused as to whether we were to believe Nick and Norah had good sex because they were in love (I think that's what the movie was trying to say), or that being in love equates to good sex. It's minor, but it's a distinction nonetheless.

But it wasn't too hard to imagine Norah not picking up the phone to call Nick the next day and writing the whole thing off.


On the whole, the movie just made me feel old.

Maybe the movie was realistic enough that I just felt irritated with things which irritated me back in the day. And part of me wonders, when I see a movie like this, if I'm just that out of touch. Probably.

Hipster teens will love this movie. Its going to be the hot soundtrack, I'd guess, so full of the hip music of the generation that I am not a part of and which I don't keep up with.

I certainly felt like the old man wishing the darn kids would get off his lawn, wondering where their parents were, if kids in NYC have the carte blanche on public intoxication and getting into bars that the movie suggests, and generally not feeling sorry for attention-starved teenage drunk girls (a demographic for which I had no sympathy the first time around, and frequently abandoned, unlike the film. Which is probably why I resented that subplot to such a degree.).

All of that said... it's a step in a better direction for teen-romance movies. This movie at least had one foot in some kind of reality, even if its not suburban whitebread. And I certainly can't lay claim to any knowledge of what the kids are up to (but if Newsweek is any indication... its all about prescription drugs with the kids), but it also wasn't as embarrassing as other movies.

In the tradition of "all in one night movies", its still a light year behind American Graffiti, and not as interesting or funny as Dazed and Confused. It's nowhere near as schmaltzy as "Before Sunrise". And has less explosions than "Die Hard" parts 1 and 2.


Michael Corley said...

The most important thing I take away from this review is "Confirmed - I don't want to see this movie".

I am definatly too old to squeeze enjoyment from it. And doubtless I would also be wondering where the hell the parents were, espcially since my daughter will be a teenager in less than a decades (ayiieee).

As I recall, my brother and crew, the real experts on such nights, generally left drunk ass bitches at the bar. Beyotch.

J.S. said...

I understand that the sequel is going to somewhat change your understanding of the movie. Apparently, it turns out that Nora was actually a Satan-worshipping seductress, only seeking to hook up with Nick long enough to become impregnated with his child before she kills Nick and eats him (you might have thought they used protection, but this was all part of Nora's ruse). Her Satanic hellspawn child grows up to become an extremely charismatic presidential candidate for the Republican party. The third movie in the trilogy features this child, now the President and leader of an extraorinarily fascist United States, leading us into a final, cataclysmic war of nuclear armageddon. All of these events are foreshadowed in the first movie, but you have to look pretty deeply into the subtext. The Presidential Nora-Nick hellspawn child is named Track.

The League said...

That WOULD put a certain spin on things... I'm not sure it would have made me anymore enthusiastic for this movie, though...