"Playlist" is the story of two high school seniors who find love on one long night in the City, while trolling about looking for a "secret gig" by local rock legends "Where's Fluffy". That plot is the tender thread that holds together this frustratingly weak adaptation of the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.
Nick is played by Michael Cera - he of the preternatural comic timing. When we first meet Nick, he's leaving the type of heartbroken phone message you might have heard from a John Cusack character in the 80s. It's painful and awkward and, as delivered by Mr. Cera, just on the border of funny. Nick, it seems, has just been dumped by Tris (Alexis Dziena), his girlfriend of six months. Holed up in his room, Nick generates one mix CD after another in the hopes of winning her back. Little does he know that Tris is a shrill, half-dimensional harpy that throws his discs in the trash only after laughing them off to her girlfriends. Meanwhile, one of Tris' schoolmates, Norah (Kat Dennings), has been retrieving these musical masterworks and keeping them for herself, developing a cosmic bond with the mind behind such perfect song-selecting proficiency. Little does she know…
You can guess the rest. Nick and Norah meet-cute, bicker and eventually make beautiful mixes together over the course of one night in Manhattan and to the tune of the requisite great soundtrack.
"Nick and Norah" almost plays like a New York City travelogue. It's a veritable who's who (or should I say "where's where") of Manhattan musical venues. Bowery Ballroom, Arlene's Grocery, Mercury Lounge - there all represented. And I appreciate that director Peter Sollett ("Raising Victor Vargas") takes pains (it couldn't have been easy) to setup the location shots accurately. Even a pit-stop at Veselka, the site of many a late-night feeding frenzy, gives the correct address. Despite an unnatural selection of perfect parking spots (for Nick's precious Yugo), this Manhattan feels real.
The film strives to be a teen "After Hours", Martin Scorsese's wild ride through Manhattan's underbelly circa 1985. It might have succeeded were it not for a deadly screenplay by actress-turned-writer Lorene Scafaria ("The Nines"). Not only is the twee dialogue not nearly as clever as it thinks (even Mr. Cera strains to make it snap), but the two leads don't even seem right for each other.
Maybe the problem is that it's hard to picture Mr. Cera as the leading man. The film surrounds him with a trio of flamboyantly gay boys, perhaps in the hopes of making him appear more hunky. But hunky he is not. And that's just how we like him. He's eminently watchable, and lovable - heck, we all want him to be happy. Maybe it's just that he still hasn't found the right woman. Ms. Dennings isn't unlikable, she has a Scarlett Johansson quality, if you crossed her with a "Heathers"-era Winona Ryder. But she never clicks with Mr. Cera. An early car ride together demonstrates a complete lack of grounds for conversation. It's only through plot complications that they finally come together. Ari Graynor, meanwhile, all but steals the show as Caroline, the drunk best friend with a fetishistic attachment to chewing gum and a tendency to raise her arms and yell "Wooooooo!"
No matter all the contortions the script puts itself through to unite its lovebirds, "Playlist" remains out of tune. All along, I couldn't get Michael Bluth - Mr. Cera's TV dad from "Arrested Development" played to perfection by Jason Bateman - out of my head. When Nick and Norah finally come together, I just heard Mr. Bateman's inimitable, "her?"
|Movie title||Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist|
|Summary||Even Michael Cera's unique brand of awkwardness can't save this frustratingly weak adaptation.|