Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

I reserve “zero star” ratings for movies I can’t even get through (see: The Big Hit), and I got through this. “One star” ratings are for movies that offend my sensibilities on a visceral level, movies that simply shouldn’t have been made, movies that are a waste of time, both for the creators and the viewers. One star reviews are reserved for movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

I’m not even sure what the point of this review is. Really, you can just go back and read my Juno review, only take out all the parts about liking it. This is a treacly, too-precious stew of teen angst and hackneyed tropes. He’s the only straight guy in a gay band! The obviously alcoholic best friend always vomits in the same Asian market’s frozen food aisle! He abandons his ex-girlfriend under an overpass in the middle of the night and nothing bad comes of it! They’re in high school, yet spend entire nights wandering around NYC like it’s an all-night Disneyland! Wacky!

I realize that most teens are probably more sophisticated than I give them credit for. Understand that I’m coming from the perspective of someone who was a particularly unsophisticated teen. But if there is even one teenaged child out there that sees this movie and thinks that the reality displayed therein is either attainable or desirable, then the producers have done that child a great disservice. The most disturbing part, to me, is how the best friend is handled. She is obviously an underaged problem drinker, yet it’s treated like a harmless plot device. She leaves a slug-like trail of emesis through the first 90 minutes of the movie, but in her final scene she appears fully recovered, holding a drink in one hand as she cheers a band. She’s the Joe Camel of the wine and spirits industry.

The movie’s plot is a Sierpinski triangle of retread elements involving the alcoholic friend, a search for a “secret” concert venue, and various and sundry sets of exes. If you want to know how the movie starts, middles, and ends just watch the first 20 minutes about six times. And like a Sierpinski triangle, it just gets emptier with every recursion.

The direction by Peter Sollett is homogenous, corporate, and soulless. This could have been directed by any nameless, faceless, scale-earning wage hack, and hey presto, it was. The acting is weak throughout. The supporting cast of stereotypes are all played broadly and badly. There’s the Cheerleader Barbie ex-girlfriend, the greaser ex-boyfriend, and a vanload of clueless gay Shaggys. Between the direction and the script you can’t really hold any of the actors accountable for the resulting mess; but when the couch bursts into flames and you’re the only one holding lighter fluid and matches, you’re going to get blamed.

The plot, such as it is, really needs to be carried by the eponymous leads since there’s scarcely a scene that one or the other isn’t in. Instead of carrying it, they manage to, through sheer brute force, drag it kicking and screaming from inception to completion. Kat Dennings, as Norah, spits out every line with the same diffident drawl, and lacks any spark or charisma. And let me say for the record that Michael Cera might be the worst actor ever. I hated him in Juno, and I hate him here, though as far as I know he might have thought he was still filming Juno. I want his career to stop circling the drain and for God’s sake simply fall through to oblivion. He does one thing, and one thing only, and he doesn’t even do that one thing particularly well. Why he gets work in anything above the level of summer stock theater I don’t know.

Ultimately, the movie is just another lightweight coming-of-age teen comedy, the kind of thing John Hughes made his millions off in the 1980s. But where Hughes infused his stories with a kind of melancholic joy and his characters with sympathy and realism, the same story tenets are presented here with a cynical, worldly attitude, and its characters are cardboard cutouts that speak in the too-perfect platitudes of middle-aged comedy writers. Hughes gave us smart, funny kids that acted like smart, funny kids. What we have here are adults playing kids that act like adults, and we’re poorer for it.


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