It's impossible to watch "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" without thinking about "High Fidelity," a geeky, earnest celebration of emo, romance, music that solidified John Cusack's "nice guy wins" act while introducing the world to the rambunctious talent of Jack Black.
In fact, it's impossible to watch "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" without thinking about Cusack himself. In the film, Michael Cera ("Juno," "Superbad") and Kat Dennings ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") spend an evening chasing down local band "Where's Fluffy?" while lamenting lost loves and maybe, just maybe, finding new love.
There's not much original about "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist," but Cere and Dennings make such a winning couple and screenwriter Lorene Scafaria has crafted the dialogue with such a lighthearted, sweet and easygoing touch that it's nearly impossible to begrudge the film its familiarity.
Cera certainly doesn't stretch himself out of his geeky, emo comfort zone as Nick, a grief-stricken young man reduced to creating mix tape after mix tape for his ex-girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena). Tris laughingly discards the tapes, while her schoolmate Norah rescues them more for the quality of the music than any sense of sentimentality. While Nick isn't exactly a stretch for Cera, it is precisely the kind of role that Cera does beautifully and with such utter sincerity that one must figure that it's not entirely acting that's involved.
One of the true joys of "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is its absolute love and affection for its characters. Nick is guitarist for a Queercore band called "The Jerkoffs," featuring two gay bandmates, Dev (Ravi Gavron) and Thom (Aaron Yoo). Rather than play these characters for laughs, however, Scafaria and director Peter Sollett ("Raising Victor Vargas) seem to recognize that the story itself is charming and funny enough that they need not make fun of the characters.
The same is true with Norah, a sweet girl trying to get over her own semi-break up with Tal (Jay Baruchel, "Tropic Thunder"). While out one night with her girlfriends she "borrows" Nick for a few minutes to be her boyfriend, not yet having realized that THIS Nick is the ex of her galpal Tris.
How this all plays out is unquestionably predictable, yet constantly charming and sweet. As the night unfolds into morning, Nick and Norah bicker back and forth while Tris's jealousy gets the best of her and Norah's other galpal, Caroline (Ari Graynor, "Turn the River") is lost then found then lost then drunk then, well, you'll just have to see it for yourself.
Suffice it to say that Graynor gives "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" quite a few of its laughs while never dissolving into caricature.
The film works far better than it really should, mostly owing to the chemistry of the two leads and the sure-handed and non-condescending direction of Sollett. While the film's editing occasionally feels a tad awkward, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" works because these characters are played for real rather than for laughs.
It's difficult to say where Cera goes from here. Is he in danger of painting himself into a corner? Can he expand his repertoire to include more complex performances? Does it really matter?
I mean, seriously, it has taken John Cusack into his late 30's to really begin expanding his horizons. Cusack found his niche', stuck with it and made a career.
My gut feeling is that Cera can do the same.
Beautifully photographed, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" at times feels as much a love song to New York City as it is to Nick and Norah and life and love. Likewise, the film features this year's most stellar soundtrack thus far including the likes of Bishop Allen, Band of Horses, The National and quite a few others. It's a kick ass soundtrack that also happens to perfectly complement the film.
A perfect date flick for young adults, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is likely to appeal to fans of Cusack's films or those simply seeking an easygoing, lighthearted film in which the good guy wins, the good girl really is a good girl and the humor is found in the story rather than at the expense of the characters.
Count me in. "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a winner.
The Independent Critic