Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist isn’t actually infinite. It just feels that way. (Ba-dump-boom! Zinger! Rimshot! Cha-cha-cha! Welcome to the review, ladies and gentlemen.)
Nick and Norah would benefit from being half as hip. A little naive enthusiasm for something, anything other than obscure rock bands would have made them, well, you know, people. Instead we get this:
NICK: So how do you know my ex-girlfriend?
NORAH: Oh, she’s a mumble mumble. I’m really excited about this band!
NICK: Me too! Also, I’m going to college mumble mumble.
NORAH: I’ve been with this guy for three years mumble mumble. My best friend is a raging alcoholic mumble mumble. Now let’s go find Where’s Fluffy?, our mysteriously hard-to-locate favorite band!
Michael Cera’s quiet, shy act works well when it’s played against a strong personality — the insane family in Arrested Development, the wisecracking title character in Juno. But when Cera’s Nick is put up against a female version of himself — spineless, introspective, but exquisitely attuned to the tiniest tremors in underground music — the chemistry is absolutely inert, and both characters remain leaden, lumpen, and dull onscreen.
Which is a shame, because there’s a fairly funny movie going on around them, or at least in the same neighborhood. Maybe it’s hiding wherever Where’s Fluffy? is playing. Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, and Jonathan B. Wright are effective and charming as the good fairies trying to give their buddy a shot at love, and Ari Graynor brings the only really solid (if lowbrow) laughs as an over-the-top drunk from New Jersey who gets lost in the city. Meanwhile her bubblegum becomes a character all its own, and maybe the most interesting one, as we watch it move from mouth to mouth to places bubblegum should never go and then back to mouth again. The gum gag feels like it’s from another, cruder, more engaged movie, but at least it gets the audience to say, “Ewwwwww,” which is the strongest reaction this Teflon-coated unmovie is likely to coax out of anybody.
Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues played at the bottom of a Paul Newman double bill at the New Bev last weekend. It’s not a great movie — the main character’s central conflict is pretty lightweight and, when it comes down to it, not even that much of a conflict. (Newman’s a jazzman who wants to write “serious” music and has to decide between following his lover to America and studying composition in Paris. What — they don’t have music schools in the U.S.?) But it’s fun to watch Ritt and his cameraman Christian Matras put a Hollywood sheen on the very same Paris that was being explored by Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer in the great New Wave masterpieces. Diahann Carroll, as sidekick Sidney Poitier’s love interest, is smokin’ hot, and the script bravely flirts with having her and Newman get together — for about two minutes, until the racial norm re-asserts itself. Still, she and Poitier have a good old time talking about how much better and freer things are in Paris. Poitier’s Eddie wants to stay there forever, and who can blame him? In Paris, nobody cares that he’s black — a point the writers, all five of them, make over and over again.
There are a few other interesting things going on here — the disapproving-yet-surprisingly-unresolved subplot depicting a guitar player’s drug addiction, for example. But overall, it’s a very minor movie with an outrageously good score by Duke Ellington. Even though it’s often perfectly obvious that the actors are faking their playing, the music is so good, so lively and challenging and full of joyous good spirit, that you can totally go along with it. When trumpeter “Wild Man” Moore, played to the nines by Louis Armstrong, pays our heroes a surprise visit, the obligatory duelling-horns playoff is breathtakingly exciting. You can get the CD here or find it on iTunes by searching “battle royal armstrong.”