NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST

-By Ethan Alter


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In case you were wondering, no, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is not a 21st-century re-imagining of The Thin Man in which the bickering, boozing Charles couple are tasked with tracking down a missing iPod. Instead, the title characters in this sweet if overly familiar romantic comedy are a pair of music-savvy teens who spend one very long night together prowling the streets of New York City in search of their favorite singer, Fluffy. Word on the street is that the reclusive artist will be giving a rare live performance at a Manhattan club, but the wheres and whens are shrouded in secrecy.

During the course of their after-hours adventure, the gawky Nick (Michael Cera) and the self-esteem-challenged Norah (Kat Dennings) flirt, fight, bond, break up, make up, make out and, inevitably, fall in love. Given its title and wall-to-wall indie rock soundtrack, it only seems appropriate to evaluate the film through the prism of music. So, without further ado, here is a playlist of tunes that, in this critic's opinion, sum up the experience of watching Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away": The Beatles
With this mournful number off the Help soundtrack, the Fab Four put away the silly love songs that defined the first phase of their career—think "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand"—and tackled the painful subject of love lost. The lyric "If she's gone, I can't go on" perfectly sums up Nick's state of mind at the start of Infinite Playlist. Coming off a bad break-up with his gorgeous girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), the overly sensitive emo boy is convinced he'll never love again. He even continues to churn out mix tapes for his ex, hoping against hope that the sheer power of his song selection will be enough to convince her to take him back. This type of character is a familiar presence in teen romances, but damned if Cera's witty, wounded performance doesn't make Nick's emotional turmoil seem fresh. The actor has already proven himself to be one of his generation's best comic talents in movies like Superbad and Juno (to say nothing of his breakthrough role on Fox's late, great "Arrested Development”). This film just confirms that Cera is capable of much more than delivering great one-liners.

"I Wanna Be Sedated": The Ramones
Infinite Playlist was filmed extensively on location in New York's Lower East Side and nothing says "Lower East Side" better than those Bowery heroes, The Ramones. The neighborhood is also familiar territory for director Peter Sollett, whose breakthrough debut Raising Victor Vargas took place just a few blocks away from many of the clubs Nick and Norah visit. As in Victor Vargas, Sollett's preference for location shooting lends his sophomore effort an authenticity that many teen movies don't possess.

"Every Little Thing She Does is Magic": The Police
As good as Cera is, the film's breakout performance comes courtesy of his co-star Dennings. A valuable supporting player in films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The House Bunny, the actress seizes this prime opportunity to transition to leading lady. With her strong jaw and pale features, Dennings doesn't look like Hollywood's ideal of the perfect teenager and that's to the movie's benefit. At times, she brings to mind a more zaftig Janeane Garofalo circa The Truth About Cats & Dogs. And like Garofalo's character in that film, we're not supposed to notice Norah's obvious beauty at first, but it's difficult to maintain that charade whenever Sollett cuts to a close-up of his star. Film critics aren't supposed to admit to having crushes on actors, but I defy anyone to watch Infinite Playlist and not fall a little bit in love with Dennings.

"Let's Spend the Night Together": The Rolling Stones
Tune into any classic rock station anywhere in the country and you're guaranteed to hear the Stones' 1967 chestnut. And while you may initially groan at having to listen to this familiar song again, chances are you'll be singing along by the final chorus. Infinite Playlist inspires a similar reaction. Sure, the movie is completely predictable down to the very last shot, but when everyone is jamming as well together as the cast and crew do here, it's easy to give yourself over to its groove.

"New York City": They Might Be Giants
The Big Apple has inspired any number of memorable songs, from Leonard Bernstein's classic "New York New York" to U2's gorgeous "City of Blinding Lights." But this peppy 1996 track from the eccentric rock group They Might Be Giants captures the zany spirit of the city as we see it in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. In fact, if the title characters weren't such indie-rock snobs, one can almost imagine them walking hand-in-hand into coupledom while TMBG sings "The best thing about New York City is…you and me" over the closing credits.



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