Nick & Norah's Infinite PlaylistDirected by Peter SollettStarring Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Jay Baruchel and Ari GraynorRated PG-13*7*
Goes well with: Sixteen Candles, Juno, Pretty in Pink
Something that's never explained in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, the new film from Peter Sollett taken from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's novel, is why the characters are named Nick and Norah. Of course, that's a famous New York combination of names that originated in The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett's hardboiled detective novel that was eventually turned into a series of films and radio plays, even inspiring a Broadway musical that was one of the biggest flops of the 1990s.
But, hey, that's cool. Ignoring origins is apropos for a movie about youth culture that in many ways disregards its own history. Though they're steeped in queercore, mp3s, mix-CDs and text messages, the kids in Nick and Norah are alright. And, certainly, the movie has less in common with its gumshoe namesakes, or with Juno, last year's IT movie, than it does with the films of John Hughes, the last great director of teen heartache. Of course, invoking that name likely leads to three responses:
1. Ugh, John Hughes. His stuff gives me diabetes.
2. John Hughes movies have touched me in ways that I cannot touch myself.
3. Who the fuck is John Hughes?
What's funny is that the last response is most likely to come from Nick and Norah's target demo, the youth audience that's familiar with Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club only via reruns on USA or TBS. But, of course, Hughes was the mastermind of '80s teen drama, taking a sweet, funny look at the utterly heavy-duty emotions that come with being in high school or just beyond. And that's precisely what director Peter Sollett, who previously made the terrific little movie Raising Victor Vargas, does with Nick and Norah. Sure, the times have changed, the technology has changed, the social norms have changed and even the music has changed. But at its heart, the song remains the same.
Michael Cera is Nick, the only straight member of the queer band The Jerk Offs, desperately trying to get over his breakup with Tris (Alexis Dziena), a bitchy little thing for whom he keeps making mix-CDs. Kat Dennings is Norah, a friend of Tris' who knows Nick through those CDs, which she fishes out of the garbage after they're discarded by Tris.
These high-schoolers share a love of music, especially the band Where's Fluffy, which plays secret shows in New York City that can only be discovered by following cryptic clues stenciled in gnarly NYC bathroom stalls. Norah and Nick have never met—that is, until Norah plants one on Nick, trying to prove to Tris that she has a boyfriend, not realizing the events she's putting into motion. Immediately, Nick's friends—sort of a gay Greek chorus of teen wisdom and idiocy—decide that Norah's the one to get him over Tris, so our heroes spend the rest of the night kicking around New York, looking for Where's Fluffy, and though they're occasionally at odds, falling for each other.
Nick and Norah isn't particularly deep, but it is particularly charming, and even though there's never any doubt whether they'll get together and stay together, we're actually hoping it'll happen. Sure, the love story is augmented by a series of misadventures and cameos from Kevin Corrigan, Devandra Banhart, John Cho, a very sleazy Jay Baruchal and a nasty piece of chewing gum, but Cera and Dennings are both so likeable that it's easy to just watch the underlying love story. Though they may be starting up a relationship just as they're both set to head off to college (realistic chances of survival = slim), the two are well-suited to each other, as they're both versed in and observant of rock history, kids who do actually pay attention to where their culture comes from and the sort of couple you hope will be making mixes for each other for years to come.