Fat Books & Thin Women


Book vs. Movie: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Book: There is a frenetic caffeinated energy to this novel. Nick and Norah take alternate chapters and after reading the wretched doubled narration of Megan McCafferty’s Bumped it was such a relief to see this working. Nick and Norah both seemed older than they are, even when they’re reminding me of how old I am getting. (I kept doing the math, not quite believing it. I know that being 25 doesn’t exactly make me ancient, but I still find it hard to believe that I am seven years older than either of these characters.) Nick’s been dumped by his girlfriend of six months but she shows up at one of his band’s shows anyway, so he asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes to throw Tris off. Norah agrees, which leads into a night of music, debating what this means for either of them, how they feel about their exes, what they are going to do with their lives, whether it’s possible to meet someone and know, that night, that they are the right person. Norah especially sometimes reads as too screwed up to be eighteen years old but I couldn’t slow down reading long enough to really care about that.

Movie: It wasn’t until rewatching this after reading the book that I realized how much the film departs from the book. Unlike the book, the movie goes for the gross-out in its focus on Norah’s friend Caroline (the scene of her vomiting into a bus station toilet, dropping her phone and gum in, reaching in for the phone – then the gum) and it turns a few of the characters into caricatures, which works better in some cases than in others. Nick’s ex-girlfriend, Tris, loses the humanity she has in the book; here, she’s nothing more than a lying, cheating, Lindsay Lohan-style Mean Girl, and watching her is never not painful. One of the pleasures of watching the film, though, is to see what they’ve done with Tal – he wasn’t a real sympathetic character in the book so there isn’t much departure there, but to see Jay Baruchel who is always so adorable and puppy-like (have you seen Undeclared or Knocked Up or She’s Out of My League?) play the part of a raging asshole is kind of wonderful.

Maybe because we can’t access the inner monologues of Nick and Norah as we can in the book, the movie makes its focal point finding Where’s Fluffy rather than Nick and Norah finding each other. I mean, they do, of course they do, but that’s all kind of secondary, a benefit to their efforts to find Caroline and then the band. The movie gives you what you want, which is finding the band, Nick and Norah realizing they like each other, Tal and Tris getting their comeuppance, and lots of good jams and potty humor. My one major complaint is that Kat Dennings is so much prettier than Tris – and in the book she’s not, not by a long shot. I guess when you make a film you gotta have your leading ladies be gorgeous, but it’s still kind of a disappointment even though I like Kat Dennings.

Verdict: Tie.

These two versions of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist don’t seem like the same story so much as they do riffs on a theme. They’re good in different ways and in different places and I can’t say that one is better than the other. They’re different, that’s all.

Both the book and movie also serve as a healthy glimpse of what I’m headed back to once I finish my service here in Macedonia. Things that wouldn’t have annoyed me too much before (like Nick driving a Yugo – such a teenage hipster move, imagine the effort required to find a Yugo in the States) drove me nuts now that, you know, I live in a country that was part of Yugoslavia and where a lot of people, including my host family, drive a Yugo if they’ve got a car. I wanted to tell Nick to stop using his Yugo (a) to tell the world he doesn’t have enough money for a different car, and (b) as an expression of irony. I am not sure how well I’ll do living in Brooklyn when I get back, or anywhere for that matter. Maybe I should give the two Nick & Norahs a win and me a lose, for now.

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12 Comments

I saw the movie Nick & Norah and just thought if I was still in high school this movie would have changed my life. Since I saw it after college instead, I just thought it was annoying. Probably because I was focusing on the hipster-ness of it. But this makes me kind of want to pick up the book and see what that’s all about.

Comment by Alley

i hadn’t thought about how i’d view the movie if i’d seen it younger – now i think it’s kind of cute, kind of annoying, kind gross, but my fondness for jay baruchel wins out over everything, but i bet if it had come out when i was 17 or 18 i’d have fallen in love with everything about it.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I haven’t read the book, but I definitely think that the movie focused on things that would help draw in the hipster, male viewer. I’ve read some other works by Levithan and Cohen, so I know what you mean about focusing on the inner monologues of the characters. This sounds like a classic example of a book not really transitioning to the screen well… at least for fans of the original material.

Comment by Jenna

right, the movie is definitely aimed at your 20-ish hopeful hipster with a crush on michael cera. i saw the movie maybe a year before reading the book, then watched it again…i wonder if I would’ve disliked the movie if I’d read the book first. And like Alley said, if I’d been younger I might have fallen in love with the book and then so many things about the movie would’ve offended me – but as it is, it’s kind of light and funny and ridiculous/hipstery/teenagery michael cera vehicle.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Those gross-out factors are the major reason I’ve never watched this movie. Loved the book, though.

Comment by Amanda

Nice review, Ellen! It looks like the movie was good but significantly different from the novel. I want to read ‘Nick and Nora’!

Comment by Vishy

Ha! That comment about the effort to find a Yugo in the states cracked me up.

Great review, I liked the movie (gross outs never hurt lol) but the book sounds like a lot of fun too.

Comment by Mayowa

the actress who plays caroline plays drunk so well – i find it hard to believe that she was actually sober during filming.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

When I first heard about the book, I immediately put it on my Barnes and Noble wish list, but I never did get around to buying it or checking it out from the library for that matter. But, when the movie came out on DVD, my mom rented it. She really enjoyed it, but I really didn’t care for it. I promptly removed the book from my wishlist thinking it probably wasn’t too different from the movie, but after reading this post I’m reconsidering my decision. I’m thinking I’m going to give this book a chance after all!

Comment by Jackie

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