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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

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   "That mix CD I left on your doorstep…" says Nick at the climax of a long and rambling cell phone message to his ex-girlfriend, "…will be the last one I make for you."

  He's trying to mean business but the desperation is clear. Nick is an awkwardly sensitive teenager, a bit of a schlump. His single edge over his peers is a vast knowledge of music. A glance around Nick's bedroom reveals that he's no casual shopper at iTunes: vinyl LPs are stacked on his turntable and Buzzcocks and Ramones posters cover the walls.

  Based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a comedy about coming of age in a cutting edge alternative rock subculture. Nick's elaborately thought out mix CDs, with hand drawn cardboard jackets, fall on the deaf ears of Tris, his mean-spirited Heathers of an ex-if indeed she really was his girlfriend and not more of a preoccupation based on a wish and a flirt. The discs that Tris discards have fallen into the hands of Norah, the cute Jewish girl at the Catholic high school who's way smarter than her classmates.

  Naturally, Nick and Norah don't know of each other's existence as the movie begins. They are thrown together haphazardly at a club show and wind up on a zig-zagging nocturnal journey across New York City. They are searching for a favorite band whose secret concert at an undisclosed location has been widely rumored, and for Norah's drunken club-hopping pal Caroline, whom they had somehow misplaced.

  Nick's gay friends from a band called the Jerk-Offs (he plays a drum machine for them at gigs) assist them along the way. In a queer eye for the straight couple twist on the gay best friend theme evident in Hollywood since the '80s, the Jerk-Offs proffer sexy dressing tips to Norah and advise Nick on the fine points of romance.

  He needs all the help he can get as he roams Manhattan with Norah in his rusty Yugo hatchback, whose bright yellow paint job attracts repeated attention from New Yorkers trying to hail a cab. Although they are obviously falling for each other, Nick continually upsets the mood by dwelling on the hateful Tris-a total turn-off for Norah.

  Nick is played with introverted affability by Michael Cera (Juno), while Norah is given a fetching performance by Kat Dennings (perhaps best known from several "ER" episodes). They are a pair of bridge and tunnel kids from New Jersey discovering the big city, the wider world and each other. A little Manhattan fairy dust is sprinkled on the bright lights of the city as they roam St. Mark's Place and name check the Mercury Lounge and the Elbow Room. The mood is soured by a few gross-out scenes involving Caroline's wretched reaction to alcohol. Some things are best left to the imagination or the pages of a novel. n

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