So I should have liked this a lot more than I did. It is a romantic teen comedy with a soundtrack that a lot of people seemed to like. I missed it when it first came out in 2008 because I was 31 and had a one-year-old son at home, which meant that I was not spending a lot of time going to the movies. Just like a number of movies of this time, I threw it on the DVD queue, and when Netflix put it back on streaming, I went ahead and watched it.
[A quick tip that I’m sure everyone knows already: if you’re a DVD subscriber and Netflix puts one of your queued DVDs onto streaming, there will be a “play” icon next to it when you look at your queue. However, this only seems to work on the full website and not the mobile website.]
The premise of the film is that Nick (Michael Cera) is in the late stages of getting over his ex-girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena) and over the course of one night, meets and spends a crazy night in New York City with Norah (Kat Dennings) in search of two things: Norah’s ultra-drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and a band called Where’s Fluffy?, who are playing a pop-up “mystery gig” somewhere in the city. Further complicating things is the fact that Tris is more or less chasing Nick all night, thinking that she can lure him back in again (because she uses him and takes him for granted) and Norah’s on-again, off-again guy Tal (Jay Baruchel) is doing the same thing to her (and using her to get free stuff and a record contract for his shitty rap band because her dad’s a high-profile record producer).
There are a few things that are great about this movie. Kat Dennings plays Norah with enough self-doubt and vulnerability to make her likable and believable (Dennings is beautiful, but the costume and makeup do a great job of making her still be beautiful but not overly glamorous) and she has some very awkward scenes with Michael Cera that are pretty charming. The supporting cast is by and large really great. Graynor’s portrayal of the drunk Caroline is genuinely funny (and she has a scene involving a Port Authority Bus Terminal bathroom that is slightly less gross than the toilet scene in Trainspotting) as are Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron as Thom and Dev, Nick’s friends.
But overall, it falls short. Granted, I’m not its target audience and I am sure a number of my students back in 2008 (or in 2019, for that matter) would find this to be great, but there have been teen-oriented novels and movies that have transcended that target audience and that I’ve really enjoyed, so I don’t think my criticism is one to be brushed off. I’ve never had that much of an opinion of Michael Cera–he was good on Arrested Development and okay in Juno–but I found his performance irritating. The character of Nick was okay–I’ve known guys like that and at one point or another was a guy like that–but watching him whimper his way through every line delivery got irritating. And the script was missing something to the point where it felt like a thinner, watered down version of other movies (American Graffiti, for one). It wanted to make New York City and music characters in their own right and in a few moments, it did that, but in other moments, it just seemed like pandering to tourists (hey, kids, look! Times Square! Katz’ Deli! Brooklyn!) in a way that so many other movies are always able to avoid. Finally, despite Dennings’ performance, the main characters and the romance were just too twee–Nick’s driving a Yugo was a good gag at first until you hit that point where you’re like “Okay, we get it.”
I know I come off as a cynical grump here, but I can’t help express how disappointing I found this. If you’re of a time and a place and you see yourself in these people, I am not going to fault you for liking it and please enjoy it for everything it is. I’ll go elsewhere.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?