In common NYC parlance, being called a hipster implies youre a cynical and obnoxious indie devotee. With that in mindand in the spirit of toothless gunk like Lou Adlers Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (now out on DVD) and Allan Moyles Times Square (1980)comes Peter Solletts Nick and Norahs Infinite Playlist, a romantic comedy for tweeners that tries to rehabilitate the term. While it would prefer to think of itself in the tradition of John Hughes, Nick and Norah is to hipsterism what Adler and Moyles films are to punk ideologya posturing love story about, well, posturing.
To get that hipster voice right, Nick and Norah errs on the side of caution and makes its protagonists superficial love of all things sarcastic and obvious its focus. Bumper sticker slogans define jittery, skinny jeans-wearing Nick (Michael Cera) and mix-tape-loving, hoody-clad Norah (Kat Dennings). They traipse about New York in search of Fluffy, their favorite band, who happen to be performing a secret show that night and Caroline (Ari Graynor), Norahs obligatory drunk friend. Along the way, they head past the most clichéd of confirmed hipster hangouts, like the Bowery Ballroom, the Landmark Sunshine, Veselka and Alphabet City (only along Avenue A though, of course).
This sort of condescending, reductive approach transforms Manhattan into a snow globe version of itself. Admittedly, this is nothing new to films set in New York, but it is especially distressing coming from Sollett, whose Raising Victor Vargas (2002) is light years away in its earnest and (dare I say it) authentic vision of the Lower East Side. Nick and Norah is more like Doug Limans Jumper in that its built on the premise that if you could go anywhereor in this case, look anywherefor someone, you would go to the most blatant spots for drinking, rocking out and puking. As Norah cleverly offers, You know how people like to eat in the same places? Caroline likes to barf in the same places. Hipster New York Monopoly, anyone?
Still, while looking for authenticity in a film advertised as a Juno-esque romcom about hipsters seems pointless, its a futile but unavoidable pursuit when the films humor is so dismal. Screenwriter Lorene Scafarias adaptation of Rachel Cohn and David Levithans novel posits that the funniest thing to a scenester is the kind of anecdote that should end in heavy sighs, eye rolls and loud mutters of Great story! The plot thus breaks down into a string of episodes that revolve around unabashed schadenfreude, or nightlife scenarios according to Americas Funniest Home Videos. Watching Caroline barf into a Port Authority toilet and then fish her cell phone and abc gum out of said toilet may be painfully funny in real life but not when its in a movie where its supposed to be funny.
That love of the short-attention span may, however, be the only explanation for the films protagonists iconic namesas Tal (Jay Baruchel), Norahs ex, says about his bands mix of Zionism and anarchy: Its, like, ironic. While Nick and Norah are both sarcastic, Nick and Norah Charles they aint. They shield themselves with their emotional fragility and obviously not the smug but silky charms of witty banter that made William Powell and Myrna Loys power couple in The Thin Man so attractive. Unfortunately, Cera and Dennings pouting is obviously not clever or even jaded enough for their stale one-liners to sustain them as anything more than just walking scapegoats for the pretentious.
Ostensibly, Nick and Norah sanctimoniously justifies its love of the fragmented and incomplete punch line by explaining Nick and Norahs instant attraction in the same way. It relies on a sap-happy use of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, where the pieces of the world are brought together for the sake of restoring unity, making the whiny adolescent lovers those pieces. Still, as a portrait of hipsters with a Disneyland level of authenticity, the preposterousness of that wishy-washy belief is the best joke in the film.