Runners-Up 2008: #3 - "Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist"
3. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
I'm as shocked as you are. This wasn't a film I caught when it originally opened, and I almost put it off completely. I think part of what happened is that this got blasted by a lot of people who were checking it out just before Toronto as part of the festival line-up, and it got dismissed out of hand with such wrath that I let it color my opinion of the film before I laid my own eyes on it. One of these days, I'll learn not to let other people tell me whether or not a film is worthwhile.
The teen romance is a genre that typically turns out to be facile and surface and, frankly, dull as dirt, but every now and then, someone turns out a variation on the basic form that practically sings, and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," despite that wretched title, is just such a film. Part of that is because Michael Cera and Kat Dennings both manage to project such a likeable, approachable intelligence in their roles that you end up really rooting for these kids to get it right, and part of it is the low-key approach to storytelling. Lorene Scafaria, working from a novel by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, has managed to avoid cliche and give some real insight and humanity to all the kids in the film, not just one or two leads. Peter Sollett, whose earlier film "Raising Victor Vargas" also managed to play very real, never turns this into a commercial for the soundtrack, instead choosing to pay attention to the small moments, the little interplay that makes you believe these two people are really starting to fall for each other. It's simple work, and because there's nothing flashy about it, it's easy to undervalue what he does, but that would be a mistake.
And as much as I like the film as a whole, there's one performance here that I want to spotlight because I was so impressed by it, both in conception and in terms of how it's realized. Ari Graynor's role as Caroline, Norah's best friend, could have easily been an embarassment. There are few things worse than someone playing drunk and doing it badly. But Graynor goes beyond just playing drunk to absolutely nail her role, the girl who always has to be in crisis, always has to be a mess, and who needs to know that her friend will be there to catch her and make her apologies and hold her hair when she's sick. I knew people like her, people who didn't just drink, but who drank to excess every single time because they love to have an excuse when they lose control. Hell, I was that person for a while in my early 20s. And Graynor makes it funny and sad and pathetic and vulnerable and, ultimately, just plain human. "Nick And Norah" is keenly observed, and although I'm not 20 and looking for love, I remember what it felt like, and every frame of this one rang true for me.