Nick and Norah PhotoNick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

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.

Norma Rae 04Norma Rae

Freedom can be understood in many ways, but anyone who ever worked a factory job before the advent of unions understands freedom as the right to be treated as a human being, rather than as a machine part that can be worked to death and then thrown away.  Martin Ritt’s 1979 movie, Norma Rae, shows the difficult road to obtain that freedom.

North by Northwest - Saint on RushmoreNorth by Northwest

Mistaken identity, an innocent man, bloodthirsty spies, a long train trip, a beautiful, sexy blond, and suspense building to a nail-biting conclusion—all these staples of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock drive his epic 1959 film, North by Northwest.

Notorious 03Notorious

The sexiest and most mature of all Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Notorious is also one of his most suspenseful movies.  It’s a torchy love story set among dangerous ex-Nazis in Rio de Janeiro, with Ingrid Bergman putting her life in danger to prove to the American agent she loves that she has become an honest woman.  Beautifully shot in black and white, all of Hitchcock’s mastery drives a story that is thrilling right up to the end.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah PhotoWhen 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.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

nick and norah book cover

This novel comes rumbling out of some torn up Manhattan tunnel like a queercore punk nightmare, full of profanity, revolt, degradation, and the sweetest young love you’ve ever tasted on some strange Jack Kerouac night full of piss and vinegar.

Much the way On the Road roared at the right side of the highway from America’s kick back against conformity in the 1950’s, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist assaults the reader from the first page and doesn’t stop jumping until literally the last word of the book, which is, appropriately: “Jump.”  Young adult authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan trade chapters in this novel, with her writing as Norah and him writing as Nick.  That accounts for the distinctive voice of each character (written in the ever present YA Biblical tense of FIRST PERSON PRESENT).

The book begins with Nick on stage at some Manhattan club playing bass with his queercore punk band, The Fuck Offs. He’s the only straight guy in the group, comprised of high school seniors.  The drummer, Thom (with an H), is less than talented and waits for a solo that never comes in the two minute screaming slashes that they burn, and the lead singer, Dev, is a beautiful slut, ever on the make for his next guy.  Nick nearly loses it when his ex-girlfriend Tris comes smoking into the club with her newest guy because she is truly, eternally hot and he is still desperate for her.  After the set, he goes to the bar and when Tris approaches him, he turns to the girl next to him, who wears of all things, a flannel shirt in this den of trendy commercially run Ramones tee shirts, and says, “I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?” Norah answers his question by giving a deep, eye-opening kiss that begins a six hour trip for these two angst ridden teens that doesn’t stop until, well, like, you know, the end.

Alternately attracted and repulsed, Nick tries to deal with Tris strutting around with her new guy, while Norah, who is Jewish, tries to deal with her ex-boyfriend who has just returned from a kibbutz in Israel.  They are both POSITIVELY unhip and yet at the same time are the two COOLEST people in the novel.  Norah, it turns out, is the daughter of a lifelong A&R man and she grew up traveling the country, going to concerts, and listening to every kind of music there is and digging it all.  Right now, she is deeply, wholly, into punk and so, of course, is Nick, who himself is into all different kinds of music, even though right now he’s really into punk.  Although he doesn’t know who Norah is, she knows all about him because she’s an old friend of Tris and has listened to and admired the mixes he’s made and the songs he’s written.  They are both trying really hard to be people that they’re really not because they love this kind of music and nothing exhilarates either of them more than jumping into the mosh pit when Where’s Fluffy? plays their trashed out rejection of The Man.  As Norah sagely remarks: “The mosh pit never lies.”

Although there are things in book that made me seriously pause, look out the window, and wonder how it was possible to write something that sounded so trite and yet rang so true, I raced through the 183 pages in less than a day. The prose carries you forward as if you were just a passenger on their crazy train or a thrashing punk song, and after a while, you don’t really want to get off or see the song end.  Long sentences that riff like one of Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness poems run into even longer paragraphs that run into pages that occur inside one brain or the other and at the end you realize that only a few seconds have passed in the story and it only felt like a few seconds as these pages devoured you!

Most of the book is just laugh-out-loud funny, although there are some pages where you might develop a permanent little chuckle. Cohn and Levithan have such a grip on their writing, however, that this humor can change to heart-rending angst or unexpectedly profound observation within a few words.

The push and pull back and forth between Nick and Norah is a kind of song in itself as they feel their way through their anxieties, work out their past failures, and grope toward a relationship. They are, in some ways, metaphors for our fractured world and if they can work it out, maybe we can work it out.  This must be considered a break-through novel in the YA genre, not just for the language, but for the compression of time, the driving style, and the unique young voices that push it forward.

This is a compelling book that should be LOUD on YA radar.

Like it or not.

My review of the movie is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.

Isaac Asimov


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game

Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games

Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful

Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time

Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer

John Fowles

The Collector

Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust

Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn

Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards

Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You

Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea

Jack Kerouac

On The Road

Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams

Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is

Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern


The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy



The White Dragon

The Harper Hall Trilogy




The Renegades of Pern

All the Weyrs of Pern

Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God