Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 4:15 pm 
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Jimmy Stewart meets Anne Hathaway, and like awesome magic stuff sorta happens

This is a movie analogous in general genre terms to Scorsese's After Hours: it's an all-night ramble in New York City with lost and found people and other complications and a sine-wave of emotions. Its talk and its hero's choice CD-mixes mark it as a picture of and for if not by the iPod generation, white bridge-and-tunnel version. Nobody gets seriously hurt, not anybody we care about anyway, though there's some serious grossness in sequences involving a drunk girl, who's a good friend of the protagonist's soon-to-be new girlfriend. He is in the process of breaking up with his previous girlfriend, who shows her unsuitability by doing a sexy dance in front of the hero's Yugo car while he's at the wheel watching. It's not what he wants anymore. He's discovered you can have a good conversation with a girl. His response is to back up and drive away, leaving her alone and unattended in a remote-looking part of one of the outer boroughs. Why is that okay? Because Rudy Giuliani made the town safe.

At the center of it all is the playlist, or the man who makes mixes which the new girl happens to love even more than the old girlfriend. What bands you like among the American high school set defines you. It's crucial. Nick O'Leary (Michael Cera) is the guy, and his nocturnal wanderings in search of love have a focus: he's the one straight guy in a Queercore (i.e. gay boy) band whose current name is The Jerk-Offs (can that really be original?). They're thinking of other names and their Asian member Thom (veteran token Oriantal Aaron Yoo: watch for him--he's good) favors Shit Sandwich. This is the kind of thing that keeps you watching when otherwise not much is happening other than cars being recklessly driven around New York City and gay boys looking cute. The gay boys are in a van; Nick chooses to drive his own valiant but battered yellow-orange Yugo. That the new girlfriend (spoiler alert) wrecks it, even though she can drive stick shift, sort of, and Nick goes right ahead into the diner to talk to her right afterwards anyway, shows that she has like totally already won his affections.

Norah is the new girl. And why does she deserve it? Actually she arrives by chance, when Nick asks her to to pose as his girlfriend just for five minutes so he can avoid recapture by his ex, Tris (Alexis Dziena). What a five minutes. Kids change fast.

Norah is Kat Dennings, who has survived Sarah Bartlett and House Bunny to arrive at this more distinctive venue. She's a beautiful girl with big lips, who looks more like Anne Hathaway than Anne Hathaway does in her downbeat indie mode for Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married. She has understated caché. She gets everyone into any of the clubs, because, it turns out, her father heads one of the most successful recording studios in New York. But she's modest about that, and doesn't brag, though she shows off the studio to Nick later on in this long night. Like wow. And wow. And can I hold that guitar? And can I hold you?

The whole band outing has another purpose--the only thing that gets Nick out of his house to join them. Rumor has it that a cult indie band that he and the (other) Jerk-Offs and also Norah all adore, called Where's Fluffy? is playing at some as yet not quite determined exclusive venue. Several bait-and-switch club runs occur before, in the wee small hours, Where's Fluffy? is found--but--another guarantee of true (newly discovered) love--Nick and Norah forget about Where's Fluffy? and leave the club to be with each other and go back to New Jersey from whence they both come--Englewood and Hackensack.

Another plot device is the drunk girl, who Norah cares about. She's called Caroline (Ari Graynor), and she's the one who (spoiler alert) does some nasty things with vomit and a toilet and a cell phone and a wad of gum that I would rather not have seen, though such stuff is a lot more harmless than serial killers or Abu Ghraib. Caroline has to be carted away, and the gay band boys volunteer to take her on so that Norah and Nick can be alone together. But then (spoiler alert) they lose her, somehow, and everybody goes looking for her again.

None of this matters. It's the thinnest pretense for a plot to keep things moving along and turn a lot of noise and stickiness and bad band names into a dream first date. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan wrote the gay-friendly and Jewish-friendly but persons-of-color-free young adult novel on which this charming little film is based. Lorene Scafaria did the screenplay, in collaboration with Ms. Cohn.

The main reason for watching is to see Michael Cera, the young actor from a suburb of Toronto, in a more sustained role than he's had before. His appearances on TV have been many and date from when he was 10; he's now 20. This is not exactly a case of Arrested Development, but many know him from that series. On the big screen he was arresting in both Superbad and Juno. The Apatow "Freaks and Geeks" folks may have sought him out, but Cera strikes his own balance between Freak and Geek, hottie and nerd. For sure some girls love him, because he is sweet, and he continues here to show the same alarmingly authentic-seeming quiet straightforwardness. Cera's line readings are so well timed and simple they feel like it's a real person talking. With his understated but original looks and style he's a born movie actor, a young Jimmy Stewart for our times.

I hope people will remember Michael Cera better from this movie than the traveling wad of gum. But I don't know. I hope I will. But the mind can play tricks on you.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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