Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)


Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a sweet, cute and predictable movie. Some clever and funny lines with engaging characters (like Cena and’s me flat. They tried to make a climactic ending, but failed.

Nick and Norah are not of the Thin Man series (where’s Asta?) but a young artsy musician (Michael Cena) and his ex (a pretty, popular and mean girl who cheated on him during the 6 months they were together) and a quirky rich girl (not as overtly pretty, but fiesty and “in tune” with musician (sorry, couldn’t resist). In fact, as she’s checking out his iPod, she says, “Wow, you’re my musical soul mate.” That about sums it up.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
NO SPOILERS, but one small spoiler at the end which I will clearly label ahead of time.

In fact, as she’s checking out his iPod, she says, “Wow, you’re my musical soul mate.” That about sums it up.

With all due respect, that does NOT pretty much sum it up. I saw this movie a few days after it opened, and then a few days after that with a different friend who was also seeing it again (she then saw it AGAIN with her husband later that week).

For nearly 15 years, I’ve been waiting for a movie to come along that would be this generation’s The Breakfast Club. The 80s was the decade of teen flicks. Many of them (Porky’s most notably) fell into the Teen Sexploitation genre, designed to separate teens from their dollars, whatever it took. I think we know what it took if Porky’s is the prime example.

However, there were also a few that made an effort also to relate to teens: they represented teens the way they thought they should be represented and, in rare instances, managed also to speak on their behalf. I don’t have to tell you that The Breakfast Club was the best example. TBC was OUR movie; not only did we feel we were being represented, but many of us (and I mean MANY of us) believed that the characters were speaking for us.

That may be laying it on a bit heavily, but my sentiment is sincere. Even if we can’t all agree that the characters in these teen movies were speaking for us or that they stood for us, I think we can agree that they communicated a great many of our values and tensions.

What happened to that? Has there been a film like that for the teens of the nineties? What about the teens of the first decade of the 2000s? I haven’t seen Juno, but I had a feeling from the buzz that it was getting close. My thoughts when I saw the trailer for Nick and Norah’s was that this might be it.

I understood, too, that what I was looking for might not resemble in ANY WAY the teen movies of my youth: entertainment is different, and today’s teens grew up with completely different ideas about communication (no more fighting with siblings for phone time!) and entertainment (no more suffering through parents’ television programs or waiting for movies to come on cable!). Was the new The Breakfast Club possibly Napoleon Dynamite or Jackass? It might be and I’m just too old to recognize it.

I have been begging my students to go see Nick and Norah’s, and the early results aren’t encouraging. Teens enjoy it, but for them it is not resonating. I wonder if there’s enough angst in this generation of teenagers for a teen movie such as I envision even to be possible. This is one reason I suspect what we’re looking for is something more like Jackass.

So is Nick and Norah’s, at least from my perspective, the teen movie I seek? Well, it’s certainly not The Breakfast Club but it could very well be this generation’s Sixteen Candles. There are a lot of good comparisons, which I hope to share later. I took extensive notes the second time I saw the film and don’t have them sorted out yet, but consider:

Both films are set in one day and one evening.
In both films the female main character pines for a popular guy.
In both films, there are quiet moments of sincere expression surrounded by ridiculous plot elements.
Both films feature drunken secondary characters whom the main characters are forced to take care of.
Music. Lots and lots and lots of music cool teens will get but grownups won’t.
An obvious absence of grownups.
Exactly ONE gratuitous F-bomb, in the first scene of each film!
What I mostly took notes on were evidences of different social values and expectations. That’s stuff I have to sort through and categorize. I think there’s a lot here to compare it favorably to Sixteen Candles, which is an iconic film for us thirtysomethings, but certainly not the landmark The Breakfast Club is.

small spoiler: don’t read past this if you don’t want to hear what the last line of the film is.

I wonder if a whole essay could be written just based on the last lines of each film. In Sixteen Candles, Jake says, “Make a wish.” Samantha says, “It already came true.” It’s a private moment in a dark room. End of film.

In Nick and Norah’s, Norah says, “Are you upset that we missed it?” Nick says, “We didn’t miss it. This IS it.” It’s a private moment in a dark subway escalator. End of film.

What do you think? Which is the better last line? Are the last lines saying the same thing? Is this accidental, or am I seeing a commonality that doesn’t really exist here? Or are they very much alike but not that big a deal?

1 Response to “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)”

  1. Reid

    Dir. Peter Sollett
    Starring: Michael Sera, Kat Demmings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi

    Maybe Jill and Chris would have the best chance of liking this. Larri gave it a 5.

    Nick (Sera), a bassist in a high school rock band, is struggling to get over an old girlfriend. Nick’s friends try to help by getting him out of the house. This leads to a chance encounter with Norah, who is attracted to Nick. The film follows Nick and Norah on a night out in Manhattan while they search for a friend who gets lost and a band that want to see.

    General Reaction
    This is basically a teen romance-comedy. Now in all romantic films, the way the characters begin to like each other is one of the most important scenes. If this scene(s) doesn’t work, the film will have difficulty succeeding in my eyes. In this film, I had trouble buying this scene. Norah seems to be immediately smitten with Nick. Yes, she really loves his tastes in music–having heard the mix cds made by Nick–but she doesn’t know that Nick is the guy that made those cds. I couldn’t see why Norah would be so attracted to Nick, especially since Norah is fairly attractive (although I could buy that she could be overlooked by others). The scenes between Nick and Norah also didn’t convince me that they had chemistry. I couldn’t quite get who Norah was or where she was coming from. Was she supposed to be really shy and socially inept? That’s what I sensed the filmmakers were trying to convey, but I wasn’t convinced.

    I was also disappointed in the music, not that I didn’t care for it so much as the way it seemed to be superficial aspect of the film. Given the title, the importance of the music in the relationship, I just the music would be more prominent–that is not just playing in the background, but maybe having some interesting conversations about the music.

    Sixteen Candles of the 2000s
    Mitchell asks if this is the 2000’s version of TBC or Sixteen Candles. Of the two, I’d say Sixteen Candles is the more appropriate comparison (although, initially, I thought of Revenge of the Nerds; I’ll explain later.) Both films are ultimately a nerd-outsider fantasies, but in Nick and Norah the fantasy is more pervasive. In SC, Ringwald and Hall’s characters are outsiders, whereas in Nick and Norah, Michael Sera’s character–and his friends–don’t seem like outsiders at all; if they’re not popular, all the problems associated with unpopular kids are completely absent. There are other films that have a sympathetic nerdy/outsider leads (Lucas), but these films don’t glamorize the nerd/outsider sub-culture the way this film does. Let’s take Nick’s gay friends, Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron). I got the sense that they were pretty accepted and happy–not individuals who had it rough. The way they cruised around Manhattan without hassles or financial limitations–also was another part of the fantasy. Who are these kids? Actually, while watching the film, I felt like I was watching college students more than high school ones. And if they were high school students, they were the relatively small clique of students that hang out at cafes and act as if they’re in college. Moreover, the film’s target audience doesn’t seem to be the high school students, but twenty-somethings in college. I can’t see many high school kids liking this film (except for maybe some kids from a school like Punahou).

    Getting back to the way this film glamorizes the nerd/outsider sub-culture, I want to lastly mention Nick, played by Michael Sera. I’m pretty sure Sera is not a sex-symbol; yet, the film portrays him that way. The filmmakers don’t try to explain why Tris–the popular sexy girl–or Norah, pretty attractive herself–would be so attracted to Sera. They seem to expect the audience to take this at face value, which to me is a part of creating this fantasy. (At one point, I felt like the filmmakers were trying to make Michael Sera into a teen Woody Allen, that is the sexy nerd).

    By the way, this film seems to be part of growing number of other films that represent a shift in Hollywood’s interests and target audience, namely the people society thinks of as losers. I’m thinking of the Judd Apatow films like Knocked Up. Indeed, the depiction of Kathryn Heigel’s character hooking up with Seth Rogen’s is very similar. That film was a specific male fantasy–those 30-40 year old living at home and either not working or in some crappy job. Nick and Norah is the teen version of that.

    So to address one of Mitchell’s questions, I don’t think Nick and Norah is film that speaks for the teenagers in the 2000s. I do think it is a teen-nerd fantasy similar to Sixteen Candles, albeit ratcheted up. It’s that ratcheting up–making the nerd subculture seem normal and even desirable–which is what I consider the ultimate revenge of nerds.

    PS Better Line
    Both ending lines didn’t really have much of an impact as I didn’t think highly of either film, but I think prefer the last line in Sixteen Candles because it fits more with the fantasy premise of the film.

    P.S. The Breakfast Club
    I slightly disagree with Mitchell’s line that the film “spoke for our generation.” Rather, I think the film spoke for teenagers, specifically those that come from a similar background (suburban upper-middle class milieu). I’d be interested in hearing from Mitchell or anyone else the way the film captures the way teens in the 1980s are distinct from teens in the 90s or 2000s. I don’t know if there are films that capture the teens of a particular decade–besides what I would consider superficial elements like fashion, music, slang, etc.

    Finally, for films that capture the angst and isolation of teens, I recommend Gus van Sant films, especially Paranoid Park and Elephant. His My Own Private Idaho is also good in that regard. For a realistic portrayal of the vulnerability of teens emerging sexuality, I recommend Raising Victor Vargas.

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