Nick and Norah have the kind of lives any suburban teenager would envy-- for one night, at least. Wandering from dingy club to slightly dingier club, across what remains of Manhattan's gritty East Village, the two wax poetic about their favorite bands, engage in the usual battle of the sexes and, what would you know, fall in love. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, based on the popular young adult novel of the same name, is a surprisingly timeless story given its hip trappings, and will enthrall teen viewers who imagine such a adventurous, music-fueled life for themselves.
The story is slight, which will feel true to those of Nick and Norah's age even if it inspires eye rolls in older audiences. Nick (Michael Cera) is fresh off a breakup with Tris (Alexis Dziena), a vapid, blonde classmate of Norah's (Kat Dennings) who the dark, sarcastic Norah can barely tolerate. Norah only knows Nick through the mix CDs he made for Tris during their relationship, but meets him super-cute when, at a concert for Nick's band The Jerk Offs, Norah asks him to “be my boyfriend for five minutes” and get Tris to stop teasing her. Norah, of course, has chosen the one boy who can make Tris fiercely jealous, and when Nick's bandmates see an opportunity to help their lovelorn friend, they conspire to send Nick and Norah off for a night on the town.
The two set off to find Where's Fluffy, a band that only announces its shows through secret networks and flyers left across town. In the meantime, though, they must cope with Norah's drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) running away from Nick's friends, Tris showing up at every turn to seduce Nick, and Norah's on-again off-again fling Tal (a surprisingly macho Jay Baruchel) turning up to show her-- and the audience-- why Nick is a much better option.
Nick and Norah's occasional bickering feels forced, as each of them struggle not to look anything less than cool, but the genuine spark between Cera and Dennings carries much of the budding romance along. Cera is trying his best to break out of the aw-shucks cutie role he's perfected over the years, and succeeds slightly. But the dark-eyed Dennings, hilarious a few years ago in 40-Year Old Virgin, emerges as an icon for a whole new generation of girls itching to get out of high school and share their smarts with rest of the world.
For a movie that involves mistaken kidnapping, copious underage drinking and a character getting abandoned by the side of West Side Highway, the stakes are pretty low, and everything turns out goofily happy in the end. But director Peter Sollett successfully gives the movie the feel of just that kind of night out, where one bar leads effortlessly to another, and every song is the best song ever!!. That blissful, un-self-aware feeling is hard to replicate, especially for a sober audience, and the young stars put all their exuberance into helping us feel the rush. Not too much exuberance, of course-- these are mini-hipsters after all, and trying too hard would ruin everything. But believe it or not, the characters are likable anyway, even when getting into clubs at the age of 17 that I couldn't get into now.
I saw Nick and Norah about a month ago, and have thought of it every time I've been to the East Village since then. I see real-life versions of the characters all over the place, all of them probably looking for the same cute boy, perfect band, great conversation. But then, we don't really give up looking as adults, do we? Nick and Norah doesn't have a whole lot to say, and its characters occasionally cross the line from fun and precocious to obnoxious and self-absorbed. But if a thrilling night out and the potential of young love aren't in the cards, this movie will do in a pinch.