When Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist came out two weeks ago, it seemed like it would be the flagship film for the cult of Michael Cera. In reality, it was another formulaic example of what New York Magazine blogger Dan Kois termed the "One Crazy Night" movie, albeit a sweet, entertaining one. As a celebration of youth and as an extension of this narrow genre, it succeeds on both counts.
We've seen it all before and familiarized ourselves to its conventions: a group of people embark on an ordinary night that will change their lives forever, aided by a crazy best friend, a quirky dream girl and a series of inexplicably helpful mentors, jokers and helpers. You laugh, you cry, you walk away with a sense that, yes, they did just find true love in the midst of car crashes and hazing and ex-girlfriend spotting. You walk away feeling younger than ever.
The One Crazy Night movie works because it condenses what it means to be young into less than a day for the characters, and into less than two hours for the viewer. Characters like Nick and Norah presumably live more complicated lives than their one joyful night can explain, but who needs that baggage? I prefer to accept that Nick is an awkward, heartbroken young man with a gig in a queercore band and a predilection for picking the wrong girls. As for Norah, I'm fine with only knowing that she is the sheltered daughter of a music producer who loves Nick's playlists and has little tolerance for mean girls. I accept for the sake of adventure, and the suburban odyssey continues.
Norah, who attends an all-girls Catholic school despite being Jewish, has a frenemy in Tris, Nick's ex-girlfriend. One town over, Nick is heartbroken, leaving Tris pathetic voicemails and creating iTunes mixes she will never hear. His friends drag him out of his stupor to play a show later that evening, enticing him with the notion of seeing their favorite band, Where's Fluffy? somewhere in the city. Without knowing of their connection, Norah kisses Nick a minute after meeting him because she had told Tris (the famous ex-girlfriend) that she was at the bar with her boyfriend in order to seem less desperate.
A latter-day American Graffiti, the story doesn't truly begin until they hop in Nick's car, an ancient yellow Yugo Norah finds impossibly endearing. They cruise up and down wide, traffic-free streets where they can always find parking if they need it, exerting their suburban birthright: to drive an old car fast and irresponsibly.
Just as some Brown students insist they're from "Jersey, but just outside Manhattan; so close I can see it from my house, I swear," Nick and Norah dance between secretly loving the suburbs ("Hoboken: no jokin'," Norah quips at one point in the film) and striving to reach the sophistication only urbanism can bring (or so it seems at 17). Like Superbad or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle before it, it plays upon the fact that being young is about driving cars, loving your friends and being unable to articulate what you want until it is right in front of you. Youth and suburban life are one in the same when condensed into one unforgettable night.
It seems simplistic when boiled down, but for organization and structure the One Crazy Night movie works unbelievably well. First, only a few reasons are enough to like any particular character. We like Nick and Norah for their insecurities and faux-alt sensibilities, Harold and Kumar for their nerdy stoner haze, any counselor from Wet Hot American Summer for their ability to collapse time into a vacuum of hazing and trips into town. As in real life, everyone is bearable for at least one reason, for at least one night. Secondary characters benefit from this brevity as well, since, after all they are only pawns in the journey of friendship and self-discovery. Rhyme or reason plays no role: why not see Devandra Banhart at a bodega? Why not break into a legendary recording studio without worrying about consequences? Makes sense to me.
In introducing a list of classic One Crazy Night's, New York's Klois writes: "For all their flaws--formulaic storytelling, crude caricatures, senseless wackiness--One Crazy Night movies often becomes generational touchstones." We all had days in high school and early college when the burdens and joys of youth are so overwhelming they threaten to swallow us if not for the classic cinematic anchors: friendship, say, or home. We've all been Superbad's Seth and Evan, professing our love to our best friends in a way we only wish we could by day. We've all been on high school car rides so outlandish that we wouldn't have been surprised to ride with Neil Patrick Harris seeing unicorns on shrooms. The adventures aren't entirely realistic, but the relationships and sentiments are. Viewers can see themselves in any aspect of these characters--if only for one night.
MARISA CALLEJA B'10 is doing donuts on the football field.