I only rented Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist recently, so I know I'm behind the curve on this one. But I just had to say something.
I loved this movie. I loved it as a person just chilling out on her couch wanting to watch something good, and I loved it even more as someone who works with and for teenagers and young adults. When I looked up the director, I was unsurprised that I'd liked it so much. Peter Sollett also directed Raising Victor Vargas, which is one of the best, most honest and real coming-of-age films I've ever seen.
Because teen movies tend to often result in users at Scarleteen asking sexuality questions based on content from films, I've seen a whole lot of them over the last ten years or so, and despite the rare gems -- Raising Victor Vargas, Thirteen, Mean Girls and Saved! come to mind -- to say I've been unimpressed is a serious understatement. Often I feel like I need a couple showers to get all the slime off. This was a breath of fresh air.
Here's why I thought it was just freaking awesome:
• The "date" they were on is so much more like how dating goes when you're younger than what we usually see in movies, which seems to be things like formal dances or five-minute hookups. More typically, you do start out with a group of friends, maybe add to that group, and when you connect with someone, you have some time with them that's whole-group, and some time with them that's private. There are misadventures and silly-fun moments, there are times when you talk and you talk, then times when you find yourself in awkward silences. They talked about the things people talk about at 18 and when getting to know one another: about upcoming life plans, about friendships, about former or current relationships, about music they love.
There were also some dynamics during Nick and Norah's date we rarely get to see in film. A good date doesn't mean you are in perfect, little-hearts-fluttering-around-your-head harmony the whole time, nor tears-ruining-your-mascara drama. There are going to be times of connection as well as disconnection; times of harmony and times of dissonance. What you're doing on a date, really, is feeling out if a) there's more harmony and connection than the lack of either, b) if when there is dissonance or conflict, you can easily resolve it, and c) if there's enough harmony and chemistry for you to even want to. There are going to be times where you're not sure if you're even on a date or not.
To boot, most of the best dates on my life that I've been on, at any age, have been a whole lot like this: this is a lot of how I remember dates growing up in the city, and it's as much a love song to long nights out in a great city as anything else.
• We got to see a movie essentially about a couple which showed that they had other relationships of depth, not just their romantic or sexual relationship(s). The friendships had history, deep feelings and a lot of warmth and support. And it's a rare, rare thing for the friendships between young men in films to be shown as anything but vapid: here we got to see male friendships with a whole lot of love, real connection and sensitivity.
In fact, my favorite exchange of dialogue in the whole film is between Nick and his closest friend, and it goes like this:
Nick: I just feel like she's messing with me.
Thom: Who are you talking about?
Nick: Right now, Norah. No, Tris. Tris.
Thom: You just haven't figured it out yet, have you.
Thom: ...The big picture!
Nick: I guess not.
Thom: The Beatles.
Nick: What about them?
Thom: This. [grabs Nick's hand]
Thom: Look, other bands, they want to make it about sex or pain, but you know, The Beatles, they had it all figured out, okay? "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The first single. It's effing brilliant, right?... That's what everybody wants, Nicky. They don't want a twenty-four-hour hump sesh, they don't want to be married to you for a hundred years. They just want to hold your hand.
The usual hyuk-hyuk male posturing or making male friendship seem less like friendship and more like an agreement to permanent harassment that is not. It's also a pretty fantastic statement about love.
• The male character was having trouble moving on after a breakup; and his ex did that thing cruddy dumpers can be wont to do where once someone else appears to have interest, only then she was interested again. Both the exes were pretty craptastic, but even with them they weren't made all that two-dimensional: we see pretty clearly that one has some self-esteem and control issues, and that the other is a social climber of sorts. The viewer can perhaps see why the main characters were or are drawn to those characters, even given the relationships they had didn't seem to be good ones. All of this is real stuff that goes on in real life with real people.
• The gay characters in the film are blessedly not walking stereotypes. You don't get to see that everyday in any media. I also really appreciated the fact that Michael Cera does tend to physically look more like 18-year-old guys that the usual buffed-up actors we see who are years older than the age they're playing, and Kat Dennings also struck me as having a very realistic beauty.
• The sex scene. Before I say anything else, let me cut through a critique I don't think we need to get stuck on.
In movies, time gets truncated. Whether it's about sex, someone's life story, or how a given person gets from point A to point B, everything tends to happen faster in the movies than it does in real life, because movies are much, much shorter and have to concentrate longer periods of time into very short ones. That's just a basic limitation of the medium.
So, yes, Norah got off in pretty much record time. But I think that's about the only issue to have with this scene.
We got a sex scene that was about teens without being at all salacious. So often, it's pretty clear sex scenes that are supposed to be about teens are made to excite adults (which always feels really gross). We didn't see anything going on, we only heard it. And the conversation we heard was very real: it sounded like two people fumbling with something sexual for the first time together, not like a professional phone sex line or a seduction script.
The background we get on Norah in the film is that she's never had an orgasm, she's only kissed one guy and one girl before this (also a great bit of realism in there: that's not that unusual for someone 18), and the jerk she's been with on and off for three years is pretty obviously a lousy partner in all respects. It's safe to presume he's no less jerky in bed.
Norah initiates this encounter, and seems to come to it keyed up, if a little bit nervous, and very much strongly liking the person she's with (who is not at all pushy and also has some obvious sensitivity), all things that we know contribute to arousal.
The conversational exchange that gets her to that point isn't empty or about how pretty or hawt someone is, rather, it's this:
Norah: There's this part of Judaism that I like. Tikun Olam. It said that the world is broken into pieces and everyone has to find them and put them back together.
Nick: Maybe we don't have to find it. Maybe we are the pieces.
Norah: Nick? I'm coming in...
Clothes don't come off: only her pants get unbuttoned and we only know this because of some conversation about her pants and because as they move into the next scene, she's the only one buttoning back up. There is no conversation about her being obligated to do anything else "for" Nick; no talk of how she must be giving a guy "blue balls" because the sex they had was only about kissing, her genitals and his hands.
She doesn't reach orgasm through intercourse, but through Nick's fingers. She expresses feeling embarrassed afterwards, also pretty typical, and Nick gives good aftercare on that point. Even with the concentrated passing of time movies have, let's also bear in mind that it IS actually possible, even if she never reached orgasm before, that in this scenario, she may well have done so close to this quickly, because all the ingredients for that recipe were there. Again, she was getting turned on emotionally and intellectually for a long time there, had an exciting night all around, initiated the sex herself, was with someone she felt some trust and reciprocity with, who she felt some connection to, in a space she felt safe in that was private, and was engaging in an activity where orgasm was likely.
• And the mix tapes (yes, I'm too old to stop calling them that: I have tried before, and I accept failure in this). Who doesn't love mix tapes?
I didn't love absolutely everything about this film. I confess, the endlessly witty dialogue had moments of driving me a bit batty, but to a much lesser degree than the same kind of style drove me up a tree with Juno (where the dialogue way more irritating, but the least of my complaints). There's a scene with Nick's ex near the end of the film outside his car that squicked me out a bit, though I think it was supposed to. And I really did want to set my own Buddhism aside, given the chance, and punch Norah's FWB square in the face: but I'm I was supposed to feel that way.
I'm of the John Hughes generation. In fact, he shot most of the films he made in and around Chicago, where I grew up. While some aspects of those films didn't feel like home to me, what I remember liking about them -- what I still like about them -- is that they had a whole lot of heart. So often, I feel like movies with or about teens are missing that element, and tend to simplify, objectify, dumb-down or sexualize teens, making them and their lives seem farcical, meaningless or really vapid. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist felt a lot like the best of the Hughes films to me, plopped into the 21st century.
I suppose the thing to ask is this: was this as good for you as it was for me? It felt very real to me, but older adults wrote it, older adults directed it: that may well be why I, as an older adult, liked it so much. Did it feel true to you, too, or am I projecting?