Someday, Michael Cera will show us what else he can do. He surely must have someone else inside of him besides the poignantly verbal but sweetly awkward nerd we've come to know and love in movies such as "Superbad" and "Juno" and the late, great TV series "Arrested Development."
He seems too smart, too substantial, to be just a one-trick pony; then again, maybe it's easy to want good things from him because we like the person we've gotten to know so far. For now, in "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist," Cera is that guy again, but he also shows some glimmers of potential as a viable romantic lead - albeit an unconventional one.
He and Kat Dennings have a lively, easy chemistry with each other as a couple of high school seniors prowling the streets of New York on an all-night quest to find their favorite underground band. (Dennings does tend to play the same part over and over, too - the dryly witty, disaffected cool girl in movies like "Charlie Bartlett" and "The House Bunny" - she's just not as well known. Not yet, at least. But she has such a striking, engaging presence, hopefully that will change.)
Cera's Nick is an average middle-class New Jersey kid who's obsessed with Tris (Alexis Dziena), the unfaithful ex-girlfriend who dumped him, and the CD mixes he makes her of his favorite indie rock tunes aren't winning her back. But they do win the heart of Dennings' wealthy Norah, a classmate of Tris' who has never met Nick but thinks he must be the coolest guy in the world, based solely on his musical taste.
One evening, through a convoluted confluence of events, Nick and Norah and their respective posses find themselves thrown together. It's the kind of long, wild night everyone's had - or at least wanted to have - filled with old friends and new adventures. Sometimes, you're the drunk chick in need of baby-sitting, like Norah's party-girl pal Caroline (Ari Graynor), who winds up wandering around the Port Authority Bus Terminal by herself; sometimes, you're the one stuck driving, like Nick's gay friend and bandmate Thom (Aaron Yoo).
One strange thing happens after another until, eventually, the sun comes up. The comedy from director Peter Sollett ("Raising Victor Vargas") and writer Lorene Scafaria, based on the book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, is aimed squarely at solipsistic 20-something hipsters, with stops at Arlene's Grocery and the Bowery Ballroom and a trek across the Williamsburg Bridge into the vortex of angst-ridden, post-collegiate cool.
In that regard, "Nick & Norah" offers a very specific, very authentic slice of New York. But it's also a worthy successor to those 1980s John Hughes movies that were sweetly romantic without trying hard to be, which should make it relatable for (slightly) older audiences, too. OK, so maybe nothing happens. Not much happened in "Before Sunrise" or "Before Sunset" either, yet everything happens to the characters involved.
And maybe "Nick & Norah" can be a little too quirky for its own good - Nick drives a beat-up Yugo, for example, which drunk New Yorkers keep trying to climb into because they think it's a cab. It looks nothing like a cab. Like "Before Sunset," though, it's a small gem with one of the most perfectly charming endings you'll see in a while.
Unlike other movies that can unfortunately feel infinite, this one knows exactly when to say good night.
- "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.
- Running time: 89 minutes.
- Three stars out of four.