Music Exhales Love in ‘Playlist’
Love stories have narrative arcs that no doubt withstand the test of time. It’s for this reason, however, most feel that when they’ve heard one, they’ve heard them all. It’s rare that in this day and age, artistic media produces a love story with any inkling of originality. It’s probably what makes director Peter Sollett’s latest, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” such a breath of fresh air.
Nick is lovelorn and tormented by his ex-girlfriend, taking mental health days off from school and from his band mates. It’s finally a search for an elusive favorite band that takes him out of his house and onto the streets of New York with his friends.
It’s the sleepless journey of one night that packs in growing up, experiencing the importance of friendship and self discovery bringing Norah to Nick, and finally, Nick to Norah.
Michael Cera truly is the emerging generation’s prince charming. In “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” he plays Nick, the bass-playing, quintessential teenager lost in emotional woes of love gone awry. Audiences across the board have grown to love his demeanor with his characterization in Sollett’s film being no exception.
From cousin-kissing George Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development” to last summer’s “bromantic” comedy “Superbad” and the subsequent breakout hit “Juno,” Cera has set the precedent for teenage boys at the pinnacle crossroad to manhood.
Kat Dennings is the stalwart friend and audiophile Norah. More readily recognized as Catherine Keener’s teenage daughter in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Dennings takes the role of lead actress in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” at the helm, wielding it to perfection. She’s the girl in high school who isn’t 90 pounds, isn’t perfectly coiffed and isn’t readily popular, but is beautiful in the most extraordinary ways.
The film is riddled with music references from Nick’s appropriate ring tone “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure to bedroom and night club wall posters and especially to Norah’s father’s career with the soundtrack playing a prominent role. The scenes progress like a series of tracks would on an album, very apropos for the film.
A song spearheads each scene, like “Speed of Sound” by Big Star’s Chris Bell and “Lover” by hippie-folk songstress Devendra Banhart. Mark Mothersbaugh, of Devo fame, takes a break from scoring Wes Anderson films and writes “Nick & Norah’s Theme,” which recurs throughout the film. Vampire Weekend, The Dead 60s, Band of Horses and We Are Scientists are some of the bands that also make sonic appearances in the soundtrack. They do more than fill dead air; they lay the groundwork for the reality in the emotions flying between characters.
“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” first emerged as a young, adult novel by highly acclaimed authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, who is also an editor at Scholastic Press.
In the primordial stages of writing, Cohn wanted to create a story around a sleepless night of music and frivolity in New York City and wanted to base things around a male and female protagonist. Worried about writing effectively from a male perspective, she contacted Levithan.
The two started to alternate writing chapters and soon personas Nick and Norah were born. As character counterparts, their quick dialogue and irreverent antics are akin to Nick and Nora Charles of “The Thin Man,” characters in a hardboiled detective novel by author Dashiell Hammett in the mid-1930s. A favorite and inspiration for Cohn, the wed detectives are namesakes for the youths in the film.
For some, the awkward teenage years have gladly passed. Regardless, it was a time of discovery and self-realization that most adults don’t realize has passed until something like this film brings things to light again.
Nick, Norah and their friends are prime examples of this exciting and frightening time as Sollett’s film embodies this moment further. He creates an intriguing love story with echoes of “Gone With the Wind” kisses and mixes it with the reality of awkward silences, raging hormones and the love of music.