Back when Arrested Development first aired, I believed Michael Cera was an incredibly talented actor who had mastered one of the most important skills of any performer: subtlety. He and Jason Bateman were the perfect deadpan father-son pair amidst a gallery of clinically insane characters. But though I saw Bateman develop in other roles that followed the cancellation of Arrested Development, Cera seemed to essentially play the same character over and over again. Fortunately for him, that particular character is a pleasure to watch.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist represents Cera’s second effort as a leading man in a quirky romantic comedy. Though his performance in Juno was largely overshadowed by Ellen Page’s, Cera has the success of this film squarely on his shoulders. He is complemented ably by Kat Dennings as Norah. Though she shares a titular role with Nick, Cera's character is the driving force behind the plot.
The film begins with Nick leaving a horrendously pathetic voicemail for his ex-girlfriend, swearing that he’s delivered his last “I’m over you” CD mix to her just as a fresh one pops out of his laptop. We then meet Norah, an acquaintance of Nick’s ex, who has been collecting the discarded break-up mixes and falling in love with the mysterious boy whose taste in music is a twin to her own. The two have a chance encounter when Nick and his band finish a set at a Manhattan club, and the remainder of the film sees the two swirled up into each other's lives, as they quest to find their favorite band, Where’s Fluffy, for whom surprise concerts are a trademark.
Obviously, Nick and Norah’s thrives on its charm. It follows the beat of its leading man, stumbling from one locale to the next, sometimes with a hip self-confidence, but often in ways that are painfully, yet hilariously awkward. The film’s comedy is carried through sharp, occasionally fantastic dialogue and strong chemistry between the two leads, though its seriousness is often offset by a well-timed puke or two for comic effect. Interestingly, much of the film’s charm stems from its flaws. Some scenes just fall flat as a result of clumsy and unnatural writing, and some situations seem too far-fetched and ridiculous to believe. But it doesn’t run from any of its imperfections. The film displays its quirks proudly, in much the same way that Nick and Norah do theirs.
Because this is an awkward story of a love affair between two audiophiles, the film’s music must be credited as a sort of co-star. The soundtrack champions indie rock (Vampire Weekend, Devendra Banhart, Band of Horses) and underscores much of the action. However, there are times the music feels like a crutch. It is so pervasive throughout the film that it frequently crosses the boundary of overuse. The music fits the tone and mood, but one often wishes the band would take a five-minute break.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist should please anyone who is a fan of quirky stories with colorful characters, a style of movie-making that has seen sizable returns the past few years. However, those who are completely unfamiliar with the indie music scene may feel left out by the film’s insider references; Nick and Norah's moves to its own rhythm. Although it refuses to adhere to the traditional romantic comedy formula, fans of the genre won't find themselves disappointed either.