Friday, October 17, 2008

Proof of My College Minor

Whoever said getting a minor in film would be totally useless? Here's my second movie-related posts in a row; my U of A Media Arts professors would be so proud.

Earlier this week, I saw the newest teen dramedy that’s OK for Gen X adults to like too, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Based on a novel written by a guy from Short Hills, New Jersey and his gal-pal, N&N is about two jilted teens who find each other and a shared love of music over the course of one very long night in New York City. My company for the film was great and I enjoyed the witty sarcasm that has become the acting trademark of both Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. If you haven't seen it yet, read the NY Times review here.

Ostensibly, “Nick and Norah” aims to capture what it means to be a teenager at this precise moment in time. Like so many teen movies of the past, “American Graffiti” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” instantly come to mind, music plays an integral role in the lives of the characters as they ramble from one adventure to another, forging nascent sexual identities and testing the limits of their alcohol tolerance.

Where N&N takes a major departure from its genre is in its unabashed portrayal of one character’s Jewish identity. (Coincidentally played by Dennings who is Jewish and whose real name is Katherine Litwack. Sorry girls, Cera, who played Jewish characters in both Juno and Superbad, is of Quebecois/Sicilian extraction.) Back in the 1980s, Brat Packers were categorically WASPy and devoid of overt religious or ethnic markers. In the 90s, teen movies acquiesced to the burgeoning diversity of American high schools by adding the token black or Asian character who generally remained in the background and certainly never got the guy/girl.

Now as the first decade of the 21st Century is winding down, we increasingly see explicit representations of minority cultures in our films and television shows... at least for the Jews. Orthodox rabbi cum author cum radio personality Shmuley Boteach had a brief program on TLC called "Shalom in the Home" wherein he counseled families on overcoming problems. He also calls himself America's Rabbi, this when Jews are only 2 percent of the population. VH1 featured a documentary called "So Jewtastic" back in 2005, an entire episode of "Entourage" centered on Yom Kippur observance and a new book called, Cool Jew is billed as the Preppy Handbook for the Semitic set.

So it should have come as no surprise when Norah of Nick and Norah began expounding on her interpretation of tikkun olam (Hebrew for repairing the world) to her non-Jewish paramour. Who knew an 18th Century mystic and the cornerstone of every Jewish youth group would come together in film so post-modern that the hetero male lead is a member of a queercore band and everyone is in love with a band that borders on Howard Hughesian reclusiveness?

In the movie, people replace the pieces in the broken vessels central to the notion of tikkun olam. Therefore, romantic encounters in effect help to repair the world by bringing more love into it (even if that love is for a band named Where's Fluffy). Double mitzvah indeed!

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" may do little more for the Heebs than the Wailing Wall as blanket scene in "Garden State," but it's still a sweet film. And if it makes one Jewish kid in the audience feel a bit better about being a member of the Tribe, all the schmaltz seems worthwhile.

No comments: