Here we have NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, or Exhibit A if you will. Exhibit A forms part of a body of evidence that JUNO has somehow changed the US film industry’s idea of what anything targeted at teens should look and act like. With cast members headed by Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, the spearhead of the post-JUNO ‘quirky movie’ movement this was always going to be seen as a healthy young descendant of the original teen kook movie, but there’s more than just the cast to suggest an affinity with this burgeoning brand that has sprouted movies including CHARLIE BARTLETT, SUPERBAD (technically on a par with JUNO in creating this shift), THE HOUSE BUNNY and more. The film focuses on a few unique individuals among the high school crowd, each with their own take on the world and each with their own personal gripes with the ‘normals’ around them. An interesting diversion from, or development from, this basis is that rather than challenge the system in a head-on ‘aren’t we different’ kind of way, these outsiders have found themselves a niche New York: one which the film allows us to revel in.
The plot follows angst-ridden teen Nick and his group of gay friends (together they form a band soon to be called ‘fistful of arseholes’) as they have a crazy night out in search of their favourite band, which is playing a secret gig somewhere in New York. Nick has just broken up with his banal girlfriend who, unlike kooky young Cera, is ‘just like everyone else’. He is cut up, but little does he know that he has a secret admirer in Norah – who has become obsessed with Nick from afar after listening to discarded mix tapes he made for his (ex-)girlfriend who has just been cruelly discarding them. Sound complicated? It isn’t.
Essentially, for all of these postmodern nuances (or quirks, if you will), NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST is quite a simple story. It’s a road movie set in a single setting, with a love story thrown in for good measure. Like JUNO before it, it’s the details that make the movie (like its inhabitants) stand out from the crowd. The gay band mates are hilarious, and exist purely to provide fun. They don’t feel like contrived plot devices and this makes them a breath of fresh air. What’s more, humorous underused and lengthy words aside, the characters aren’t afraid of hiding their normality beneath layers and layers of ‘individuality’. Nor do they simply provide a reel of gags or fit a simple character profile on which the wafer-thin plot can rely for safe gags and textbook moments of sentimentality. That Norah is a rich girl both explains and fuels her quirkiness, giving the situation a validity that makes the kookiness more of a believable personality than a stylistic veneer. Similarly, as a borderline musical prodigy Nick’s quirks are somehow justified.
The romance side of things also benefitted from a decent dose of believability, forfeiting the allures of either a full scale clash of egos or the whole painfully saccharin ‘kindred spirits’ angle. Instead the emotional flaws of both NICK & NORAH are laid bare, revealing both the insecurity and headstrong individualism that comes with their unique takes on life. By presenting them as real people with as many ordinary problems and bad decisions as amusing idiosyncrasies unique ideas the characters that populate this movie become moving in a way that should be more universally palatable than JUNO.
Thus it seems to me that NICK & NORAH is a great example of a refined post-JUNO movie. A lot of this praise must surely be credited to the novel on which it is based, but nonetheless is it is great to see a new trend in teen comedies. Quirkiness, realism and a new take on everyday scenarios. I don’t know about you all but this is a welcome change from pensises in pies and boob gags – I hope the trend continues.
This article was first posted on January 27, 2009