When a movie has as its basis such an incredible novel as Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, there should be no way that it could fail, yet this insipid teen comedy manages to toss aside all of the best stuff from the novel, including, amazingly, some of the best comedy. It changes the course of events, and ends without a single note of the beauty that gave the book such raw power.
Cute, geeky Nick (Michael Cera) mopes around his house in suburban New Jersey, leaving long voice mails and making mix disks for his ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), a beautiful senior at a Catholic high school. Nick plays bass in an indie band called “The Jerk Offs” with gay musicians Dev (Rafi Gavron) and Thom (Aaron Yoo) who beg him to play this gig they have lined up and look for clues to the “secret” show that the band “Where’s Fluffy” will be playing somewhere in NYC later that night. At the Catholic school, Norah (Kat Dennings) plans the evening with her ditzy friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and tries to avoid Tris. When Tris throws away the latest “break-up mix” CD from Nick, Norah picks it out of the trash, as she has done many times before, because she loves the way he mixes songs. Even though she’s never met him, she knows she likes him because of the CDs.
They all show up at The Jerk Offs’ gig, Norah hits on Nick, Caroline gets drunk, and Tris shows up with her new boyfriend. Dev and Thom offer to give Caroline a ride home while Nick takes Norah out in his Yugo to look for Where’s Fluffy. An evening of hijinks ensues as Norah avoids her ex, Tal (Jay Baruchel), Tris tries to get Nick back, and the gay guys drive around in the band’s van, losing Caroline, hooking back up with Nick and Norah, looking for Caroline, and getting back together. When they finally locate the Where’s Fluffy show, Tal claims Norah, Tris claims Nick, and are both rejected as Nick and Norah head off on their own.
The movie itself is a failure on its own merits. It’s not funny or charming or even remotely romantic. However, when compared against the original novel, it must be seen as one of the most seriously blown opportunities in the history of filmmaking.
The novel is steeped in punk music, not indie music, and the writing makes the reader feel like they are inside the insane mosh pit. Nick is an edgy bass player in the group called The Fuck Offs, not a cute, geeky guy. The miscasting of Michael Cera, perhaps the result of the hideous screenplay by Lorene Scafaria or the Happy Days directing of Peter Sollett, dooms the movie from the very beginning and keeps it dredging the bottom throughout the 90 minutes of the film. The gay sexuality in the book, which was absolutely electric, is completely absent and the homosexual characters are made to look like harmless dolts. The book had serious balls on teenage gays, but the movie totally emasculates them. One of the best characters in the book, Tony, the transvestite bouncer dressed in a Playboy bunny costume was cut from the movie.
There is breathless feeling in the novel, partly derived from the thrashing punk and partly from the sparks that fly back and forth between Nick and Norah. The movie has no spark to it at all. Where the novel thrashed, the movie bounces. The plot of the book bowls along on a story arc that is lightning tight, but the film plot is unnecessarily convoluted, mostly because Dev, Thom, and Caroline and brought back time and again. When it should have been focussed on Nick and Norah, it was wasting its time trying to be funny and failing miserably.
The one bright spot in the movie is Kat Dennings’ performance as Norah. While the filmmakers eviscerated Nick, they almost left Norah her own quirky self. She also has the best line in the movie when she calls The Jerk Offs a fistful of assholes and Dev and Thom realize they’ve just found a new name for the band. (That’s not in the book.)
Don’t waste your time on this movie. Read the book.
My review of the book is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.