Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

There's a little something vaguely familiar about the perky, sweet, tuneful teen romance Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. What's cool about the movie, though, is that the vaguely familiar stuff --like the pretty, popular mean girl, and the stock angsty teen torments -- get persistently swept aside to make room for characters that aren't caricatures and kids who are alright, when all is said and done.

What's said and done in
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is said and done in a single, fleeting night, in a city that never sleeps. It's the kind of night you can have when you're young and don't need to sleep, when time both careens forward, and stands still, and a few songs and small epiphanies can change your life. The restless city is Manhattan, where hordes of invading teens from the Jersey 'burbs are in search of fun, love, and an elusive, enigmatic band called Where's Fluffy?, rumored to be playing somewhere in the city. Among the hordes are Norah (Kat Denning) and Caroline (Ari Graynor, a relentless scene stealer). Norah's there for Where's Fluffy?, and to keep an eye on Caroline, who tends to get passing-out drunk when she's out on the town. They run into frenemy Tris (Alexis Dziena), the popular mean girl, at a show where The Jerk Offs, a queercore band, is playing. What a coincidence it is that Nick (Michael Cera) is the Jerk Offs' guitarist, and the only straight member of the band, and the heartbroken shlub that Tris recently dumped. He's also the author of mopey, thematic mix CDs that Tris trashes and Norah adores. Nick and Norah are entirely simpatico in their musical tastes, and in their utter devotion to Fluffy, and thus begins a complicated night of shenanigans, awkward romance, and assorted sortings out of feelings, exes, lifeplans, and other matters of great importance to high school seniors. Much of it is done in an unreliable Yugo.

The Yugo is a lemon -- or maybe a pumpkin -- but it's a fitting carriage for the stop/start, frequently stalled, roll backwards, jump forwards relationship between Nick and Norah. They've got issues, those crazy kids. They're ironic, sarcastic, cool, and dorky hipster geeks with an endless capacity to gab about matters of grave importance (on the relative merits of The Cure, for instance), and about nothing at all. They're also full of adolescent self-doubt, and they're basically decent, sweet people. Norah, whose father is a famous record producer, can get into any nightclub in the city, but she's never sure if anyone likes her for that, or for herself. (Maybe she should stop hanging around with mooching musicians.) Nick isn't over Tris, and Tris is a high maintenance, mixed-signal-sending girlfriend, even when she's an ex-girlfriend. Nick's cutie-pie bandmates act as infinitely patient matchmakers throughout the night for Nick and Norah, the obvious and oblivious soulmates.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist treats these emotionally charged relationships with the kind of seriousness and sympathy that they rarely get in movies, which tend to view the complex and messed up relationships of adolescence as a passing and ultimately insignificant phase (and a source of puerile humor) rather than as a permanent part of the human condition.

Ah, but the movie's not all serious. There's fun to be had too, and the infinite playground is an enchanted, sparkling version of the city, filled with like-minded, club-hopping kids in an ├╝ber-tolerant, ebony-and-ivory-and-everything-in-between, gay-straight, drunk-sober melting pot in which the secret ingredient is the shared love of music -- the more insidery and alternative, the better. The worst things that can happen to a reckless kid in the big city -- the things that keep the parents of teenagers awake all night -- never do happen, and can't possibly happen, because Nick and Norah's sugar-sprinkled neon city is a fairy tale place open only to teenagers, with their fierce hearts and fearless ability to dance on the border between carefree childhood and careworn adulthood. (Caroline descends into the yuckiest, grungiest depths of the enchanted kingdom -- the Port Authority Bus Terminal -- in a scene that is suitably and hilariously disgusting.) It's a place of infinite possibilities when viewed through the filter of an authentic (but charmed) high school sensibility. Director Peter Sollett avoids teensploitation prurience and moralizing finger-wagging, maintaining a breezy and benign aimlessness that recalls how an all-nighter can feel all-too-brief when you're young and (maybe, kinda, possibly, starting to be) in love.