Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 10/03/08 12:00:00

"Proof that smart, clever teen comedies do exist. They're just rare."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a deft, insightful, cleverly written and directed romantic comedy about two music-obsessed high-schoolers finding romantic love in New York City as they search for the location of an elusive musician’s performance over the course of a single night. Adapted by Lorene Scafaria from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's “Young Adult” novel and directed by Peter Sollett ("Raising Victor Vargas," "Three Feet High and Rising"), "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is the perfect antidote to romantic cynicism and the mediocre romantic comedies that populate multiplexes year-round.

In the opening scene, Nick O’Leary (Michael Cera), a college-bound high-schooler, suburban dweller, and guitarist for a Queercore outfit, The Jerk Offs (they're gay, he’s straight), agonizes over his recent break-up to the pretty but vapid ex-girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena). Trouble is, Tris doesn’t want him back. She also doesn’t want any of the mix CDs he’s made for her. Her sometime rival and high school mate, Norah (Kat Dennings), however, can’t get enough of Nick’s mix CDs (he’s made seven so far for Tris). The daughter of a famous music producer, Norah shares Nick’s obsession with indie music, but doesn’t know what he looks like.

In New York City for the performance of The Jerk Offs, Nick tries to look cool for the self-obsessed, vain Tris, who promptly ignores him. Norah, goaded by Tris for apparently not having a boyfriend, Norah walks up to Nick and convinces him, briefly, to pretend to be her boyfriend. Tris, surprised at the development, begins to reconsider her relationship with Nick. After a brief exchange, Nick agrees to help Norah with her drunken friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor). After passing Caroline off to his band mates, Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron), Nick and Norah go off in search of the elusive “Where’s Fluffy?”, a musician who performs at random night spots around New York City. Almost immediately, Thom and Dev lose Caroline, spurring a double search for her and the elusive musician.

As adapted by Lorene Scafaria from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's novel and directed by Peter Sollett, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a light, but never lightweight exploration of that nebulous period between the end of high school and the beginning of college, where the freedom without responsibility (or almost no responsibility) is about to become the norm, but isn’t quite yet, between the excruciatingly painful loss of first love and the more mature (if only slightly) second romantic love, and, of course, the love of and obsession with music. Each one is central to the development of character and identity, each one is deftly, effortlessly explored through Scafaria’s screenplay and Sollett’s direction.

Much of the charm and appeal found in "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" can be credited to the two leads, Michael Cera ("Juno," "Superbad," "Arrested Development" and Kat Dennings ("Charlie Bartlett"), and a fine supporting cast. Cera, playing to the persona he’s carefully developed over the last four or five years, is the familiar socially awkward, introspective music geek (his Nick could have easily stepped out of "Juno"). While Cera risks being typecast, right now it’s hard to imagine another actor playing Nick. Likewise with Dennings, who, on the strength of her warmly vulnerable performance here, deserves to be front-listed for roles as early 20-something ingénues (that’s a compliment, in case you’re wondering).

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