In what has been an excellent year for comedies, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist ensures that the young ’uns won’t be left out. Based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, this adaptation directed by Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) is a refreshing teen romance that has the smarts of, and may have the staying power of, Say Anything.
The Thin Man–inspired names belong to two New Jersey high-school seniors who haven’t met but who have a connection. Nick (Michael Cera), a bassist who’ll be attending Berklee, has been dumped by the fickle Tris (Alexis Dziena), friend of Caroline (Ari Graynor), whose best friend, Norah (Kat Dennings), is ambivalent about going off to Brown. It turns out that the mix CDs — virtuoso, emotionally calibrated works — Nick has been sending to his supposed soulmate have been tossed into the trash and fished out by Norah, who dubs them “genius.” Over the course of one night, the two music fanatics will face modern twists on classic screwball-comedy obstacles.
Things get rolling at a club gig at which the Jerk-Offs (a queercore outfit in which Nick is the only straight) open for Bishop Allen. Nick’s bandmates realize that the obviously interested Norah could help kill off his infuriating obsession with Tris. That goal intertwines with everyone’s quest to decipher clues that point to where cult band Where’s Fluffy (a favorite of both Nick and Norah) will perform a secret show.
Nick & Norah becomes a road movie doubly compressed by the Lower Manhattan locations and the confines of Nick’s battered Yugo, in which the potential couple get to know each other. While Sollett provides an invigorating, near-documentary backdrop, his leads hitch the very funny dialogue to real, squirmy emotions. Michael Cera has always, even during his Arrested Development days, exhibited a unique sense of timing, and a delivery in which it seems that his inner monologue is slipping out loud sideways. His idiosyncrasies help you stick with Nick even at his most pathetic moments. Norah is the one with the pressure on her. Kat Dennings’s performance is just lovely, giving Norah hiccup-like rifts in self-confidence: is putting her feelings out there worth the risk?
The colorful supporting players range from Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron as fellow Jerk-Offs and Jay Baruchel as Norah’s slimy sometimes boyfriend to the almost movie-stealing Ari Graynor, whose Caroline wanders off in a drunken stupor, leaving a trail of vomit droppings by which Nick and Norah can find her. 90 minutes | Boston Common + Fenway + Fresh Pond + Chestnut Hill + Suburbs