October 6, 2008

An Infinitely Awesome Teen Movie

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Teen comedies seemed so hit-or-miss only a few years ago. The dialogue was unrealistic, forcedly profane and the only thing that seemed to advance the ludicrous plots. High schoolers were portrayed by mid-20-somethings, and the cheap fart humor was as unsubtle and intermittent as … well, farts.
Not any more, though. Now we seem to be in a post-Judd Apatow film landscape, where movies can be as intelligent as Juno and as satirical as Charlie Bartlett — and a glorious world it is. It’s a world where movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist can light up the screens as brightly as the faces of the audience; where such a movie can simultaneously provide teenage and college audiences with laugh-out-loud bits and still provide the incomparable moments that make us all love the movies.
Nick (Michael Cera of Juno and Superbad fame) and Norah (Kat Dennings, Charlie Bartlett) are fully realized, interesting characters — socially polar opposites — who brought together in the city that never sleeps by a mutual love of music. The audience knows they will end up together by virtue of the movie’s title, poster or seldom-seen trailer. The moviemakers know the audience knows, and use the premise of a Big Apple road trip — the characters are in search of an underground band named Fluffy, rumored to be playing at an unannounced venue — as an inventive way to bring these two complements together.
Nick lives in the suburbs of Hoboken, N.J., and is awkwardly coming to terms with his recent break-up with Tris (Alexis Dzena). Watch how Michael Cera uses pauses and word choice to leave the audience in stitches in the first scene. He may be a one-note actor, but he plays it out so well.
Nick is the modest, “straight bass player in an all-gay band,” the Jerkoffs and…wait, what? When was that kind of thing showed up in anything remotely mainstream? Much to the movie’s credit, Nick’s bandmates are portrayed as sincere friends, full of insights into the romantic world and fully aware of their homosexuality; nothing more or less. They are never sidekicks, and always side-splittingly funny. The movie should be applauded for this long-overdue innovation alone.
Norah is the daughter of a famous Manhattan producer; she’s the “good girl” who doesn’t drink, yet puts up with Tris (yep, the same Tris) at the request of Norah’s best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor in a scene-stealing role), who gets drunk at a nightclub early in the movie and becomes Norah’s ward for the rest of the night.
The side story to Nick and Norah’s locating the underground band is Nick’s band taking Caroline home in the gig van, very unsuccessfully. Caroline plays drunk pitch-perfect — perhaps for a few hours too long, but the situations she ends up in are so funny that we forgive her not thawing out to see what she’ll do next. Look out for a running gag involving Caroline’s chewing gum (pun intended on the word “gag”).
Norah doesn’t know that Tris and Nick had been dating for six months, so when she asks Nick to pretend to be her boyfriend for five minutes to impress Tris … oh, you want to know how they met? That’s not important. It suffices to say that its cute and there is some eventual melodrama of the will-they, won’t-they variety, as well as various escapades on the two simultaneous midnight journeys. Various Saturday Night Live and Judd Apatow veterans like Kevin Corrigan, Andy Samberg, John Cho, Seth Meyers and Jay Baruchel show up for key cameos. Tris proves she’s a relentless, selfish bitch. All of this must happen in the same night, of course.
Whatever. None of it matters. What you would expect works as it should, and what you don’t expect keeps the movie alive. It is how the movie takes us through the Big Apple through the eyes, and most importantly, ears and mouths of young people that makes the movie significant and worth watching. The breakneck, occasionally uneven pacing and another in a long line of uncomfortable sex scenes by Kat Dennings can be forgiven. They somehow fit into the movie’s sense of atmosphere, of the midnight’s wonder and adolescent awkwardness. Of being young.
For all the Judd Apatow leanings, like Juno, Nick and Norah, surprisingly, does not boast production credits from the Rajah of Raunchiness. This is not director Peter Sollett’s first movie, and at this rate, we can only hope for an infinite playlist from him as well.