TORONTO - Director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) grew up in the New York City neighborhood where Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a book about two music-obsessed teenagers who meet in less-than-ideal circumstances, is set. So it's natural that he'd want to direct the film based upon the popular novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. But turning the book, which shifts its point of view from Nick to Norah throughout, wasn't so easy.
"It was a challenge because I liked the book so much," says screenwriter Lorene Scafaria at roundtable interviews at the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto, where it premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It was made easier because the characters are so great on the page, I didn't have to change much there."
Filming in New York, while essential for the movie's look and feel, was also difficult.
"It's really tough," Sollett says of making the movie in the Big Apple. "It's Friday and Saturday night and difficult to control the streets. It's a lot of people. It's like Mardi Gras every weekend. But the flip side of that is you get a lot of energy. It's better than shooting in some other city and trying to fake it for New York. We shot from dusk 'til dawn every day, so when it's four in the morning in the movie, it really is four in the morning."
The film takes place over the course of one wild night. Set in New York's Lower East Side, it references the many clubs that exist in that part of town, as the teens hop from the Bowery Ballroom to the Mercury Lounge in search of a secret show by their favorite band, Where's Fluffy. Along the way, Nick (Michael Cera), the guitarist in a crappy queercore band, meets Norah (Kat Dennings), the daughter of a famous music producer, and she enlists him to be her boyfriend for the night, just to keep her superficial friend Tris (Alexis Dziena) from making fun of her.
When it coincidentally turns out Tris is the girl for whom Nick has been making mix disc after mix disc in the hopes of winning her back after she abruptly broke up with him, Norah has to rethink her whole plan. Nick is still hung up on Tris, and that's an obstacle Norah can't seem to overcome. Along the way, Norah's friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) gets so drunk, she wanders off, and Norah and the guys in Nick's band go out looking for her. The plot is a bit stagnant (think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and his friends can't find their car in the parking structure), but the terrific soundtrack holds the whole thing together.
"I'd raid iTunes and send our music editor five songs for each scene," explains Sollett. "We attempted for the guiding light to be only bands from New York, but we were tempted by sounds [from] other places."
The soundtrack, which includes cuts by Band of Horses, Devendra Banhart and the Shout Out Louds, is the movie's real strength. Ballyhooed Brooklynites Vampire Weekend even contributed an original tune to the mix. Sollett e-mailed the guys a copy of the movie. They watched it, liked it and wrote "Ottoman." After playing the tune during a soundcheck in England, they flew to L.A. to record it with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh producing and then sent it to Sollett.
"All of that seems in sync with what the movie's about," says Sollett. "You know, the electronic sharing of things you're enthusiastic about."
While the film will never be mistaken for High Fidelity, the hilarious movie starring Jack Black and John Cusack as a couple of record-store clerks who would rather collect music than go on a date, it does have similar aspirations.
"The music is so important that when I wrote the screenplay, I made a mix tape of my own to listen to while I was writing," says Scafaria. "I just thought if we could make Before Sunrise for teenagers, that would be great."