‘Nick and Norah’ may stir anger, but it’s a sweet romance

Gazette film critic Dan DiNicola has this to say of "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist": More than
Kat Dennings is Norah and Michael Cera is Nick in "Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist."
Kat Dennings is Norah and Michael Cera is Nick in "Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist."

Parents, I have an assignment: Either go alone or accompany your teenage children to a screening of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”

If you take my challenge, ultimatum, or call it what you wish, I feel sure some of you will be incensed and furious; perhaps you will summarily convict me of crimes against America’s youth. Maybe even crass irresponsibility.

Still, I embrace my verdict, basing it on the fact that with its PG-13 rating, most teens and younger kids will see it anyway. But mostly it is because in mood and approach, it reflects the carefree manner in which modern teens conduct their lives. More than any other teen film I have seen in recent times, this urban comedy of manners and circumstance captures that elusive quality of contemporary adolescent life.

Enormous pressure

From what I have observed, today’s teens swirl in a vacuum of worldly innocence. Because they are born into an environment exploding with all kinds of freedom and thrust into an age of rapid technological invention and exploration, the pressures on them to be cool and sophisticated are enormous. Yet, they are still children trying like hell to figure it all out, but without the gritty experience of an adult.

’Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’

DIRECTED BY Peter Sollett

SCREENPLAY BY Lorene Scafaria, based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

STARRING Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena and Jay Baruchel


RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

Enter then Nick O’Leary (played by Michael Cera), a recent high school graduate from New Jersey, a talented bass player in a Queercore band called the Jerk Offs; in a few months, he will be entering the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. Nick should be happy, or at least content, but his heart is aching. He’s being toyed with by a hot floozy of a girlfriend, played by Alexis Dziena. It’s a hopeless case, and, from afar, we see the futility in an instant.

But there’s another girl on the periphery, waiting, yearning to grace herself into his life. Played impressively by Kat Dennings, she’s Norah Silverberg, bound for Brown. From the get-go we intuit she is smart and savvy enough to appreciate what makes Nick special.

It’s not only his musical taste reflected in the tunes he downloads for the dismissive Tris, but the core of his character, which for Norah, is apple sweet.

Relationship not rushed

Memories of “American Graffiti” may spin in our heads as we watch Nick and Norah meet, connect, wander off, and reunite in a Manhattan that could be any medium-sized city in America. Though we do not lose the spotlight shining on our title characters, director Peter Smollet’s approach is loose and casual. Working from a screenplay by Lorene Scafaria, who adapted a work by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Smollet does not rush us into the relationship. It’s a style and approach perfectly in tune with the mind-set of today’s teens, who seem more laid-back and elusive than kids in previous generations.

Nick rides around town in his yellow Lugo, and at clubs he is coddled by his gay friends and fellow band members, led by Aaron Yoo. They know Nick is hurting, and they sense Norah is perfect for Nick. Handled with a natural aplomb, this relationship between a straight guy and gay friends who do not act like stock-character queens is another reason that “Nick and Norah” is a special movie.

Rather than zero in with melodramatic intensity on the two leads, the romantic comedy encircles them, roping them in only after we take in the entire scene, the panoply of incidents and characters. In addition to the band, we meet Norah’s friend Caroline, played by Ari Graynor, whose series of upchucks eventually struck me as an annoying running joke. Even so, I believed in her, as I did even in a minor character played by Jay Baruchel.

Drive toward downtown Manhattan on any weekend night and you will see lines of young people waiting to get into clubs. Here, we observe another realistic slice of life as Nick and Norah chase after a cult band called Where’s Fluffy? It may seem a silly and indulgent pastime, but it’s no different from fads afflicting every other generation. The point I’m making here is that with its ensemble of colorful characters and rich series of vignettes, “Nick and Norah” serves up a tasty treat, not unlike that offered by screwball comedies of the 1930s.

Cera and Dennings click

Maybe after “Juno” and “Superbad,” Cera has used up all his bunny-sweet offerings, but for now he’s an actor suited to the times. Dennings is just perfect as the girl whose allure stems from our appreciation that although she is not perceived as hot and cover-girl beautiful, she is the girl whose winsome, elusively sexy qualities are often missed by boys trapped by images of conventional lasciviousness. Call what Dennings has a fusion of intelligence, urban beauty and disarming wit.

And I like the idea of two kids named Silverberg and O’Leary hooking up for a night and maybe a life of romance. It’s a movie for our times and maybe a sign that despite the turbulence in the air, sweetness prevails in American Teenland

Categories: Life and Arts

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