Fans of the novel “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” may not approve of the film version, which, from what I understand, alters Nick’s personality somewhat to fit Michael Cera, the actor who plays him. If the changes are indeed egregious, then I sympathize with those readers. However, if you can get past comparisons to its source material, the film is effortlessly funny, sweet, and real in a way that few teen comedies are.
It’s one of those films where everything takes place over the course of one magical night in New York (a city where, if the movies are to be believed, such magical nights are commonplace). Nick, a high school student, is the lovelorn bass player for an electo-punk band whose other members are all gay. He is in no mood to perform at the group’s gig this evening, as he has been dumped by Tris (Alexis Dziena), a horrid Mean Girl who shouldn’t have been dating a sensitive soul like Nick to begin with. The dumping actually took place weeks ago, but Nick is still reeling, particularly in the sense of “reeling” that means “making mix CDs urging Tris to reconsider.”
Those mix CDs, unbeknownst to him, have earned him the admiration of Norah (Kat Dennings), a semi-friend of Tris’ who appreciates Nick’s ultra-hip musical tastes far better than the plastic Tris does. Norah and Nick wind up meeting at Nick’s show (held at the type of sweaty, second-tier venue familiar to indie-rock fans), and though he is still brooding over Tris, he and Norah find plenty of common ground when it comes to music. And best of all: underground sensations Where’s Fluffy? are performing a secret show somewhere in the five boroughs tonight, and Nick and Norah simply MUST find out where.
But first a more pressing concern requires their attention: Norah’s slutty blonde friend Caroline (Ary Graynor, very funny) is drunk beyond her ability to function and needs to be driven home. Nick’s bandmates (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron), eager to see Nick get over the wretched Tris, agree to give Caroline a lift in their van so that Nick and Norah can be alone in Nick’s Yugo. Complications arise: Caroline wanders off; Tris is still lurking in the periphery (now jealous, of course, that her ex is with someone else), and the Where’s Fluffy? show is starting to look like a wild goose chase.
Michael Cera has emerged as the prince of awkwardness, a dorky, non-threatening hero of unrequited teen love. First it was TV’s “Arrested Development” (where his cousin was the object of his affection), then “Superbad,” and then “Juno,” where he played the title character’s baby daddy. The day may come when audiences grow tired of seeing Cera play this type of kid — this wry, worried, deadpan teenager who pines for a girl — but that day has not yet arrived. In “Nick & Norah,” Cera is consistently funny in his usual fashion, and Kat Dennings (Catherine Keener’s daughter in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) is a terrific partner, both romantically and comedically.
I’m not surprised that the film captures young love in the big city as well as it does. The director, Peter Sollett, made a film called “Raising Victor Vargas” a few years ago that was just as evocative of New York’s sights, sounds, and romantic possibilities. With a screenplay by Lorene Scafaria (based on Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s novel), Sollett takes Nick and Norah all over the city, bringing them in contact with a variety of funny supporting characters and situations, while still keeping the focus on them and their burgeoning relationship. As dawn approaches, the movie — which has been energetically witty, even madcap, up to this point — grows quiet and tender, winding down naturally, the way an exciting and exhausting night always does. It’s a nice, smooth finale for a very satisfying lark of a movie.
B+ (1 hr., 30 min.; )