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The title characters of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist believe in music. Director Peter Sollett imitates Cameron Crowe in this follow-up to his debut, 2002’s Raising Victor Vargas, working with a young-adult novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan that’s a valentine to first loves, New York City, and the ability of a good iTunes collection to become your therapist and best friend. And a mutual adoration of a band? More than enough reason to fall for someone hard.
There’s a touch of Juno in Nick & Norah, from the wiggly animated credits font to the presence of Michael Cera, whose Nick may not exactly be the book’s foul-mouthed bassist of a “queercore” punk band but is his usual slightly cynical, mostly sweet charmer nonetheless. Nick was recently dumped by a shallow hottie named Tris (Alexis Dziena), prompting him to take a “mental-health day” from school and leave her endless messages and mix CDs. Tris mocks his heartache and tosses each disc in the school trash (one titled The Road to Closure, Vol. 12), from which they’re then plucked by Norah (Kat Dennings), a non-cheerleader-looking beauty who thinks the mystery guy has great taste. Norah’s father is also kind of a big deal—though why isn’t revealed until later—which, coupled with her general eclecticism, doesn’t win her any popularity contests.
The film, adapted by Lorene Scafaria, takes place over the course of a night in which the New Jersey kids head to the big city in search of a hot band that leaves only hints about where and when it’s going to play. Nick’s own band is playing at a club that’s a potential venue; when Tris, with a dim new guy, pities Norah’s dateless status—her best friend, Caroline (a promisingly funny Ari Graynor), is already drunk and off on her own—Norah walks up to Nick and shoves her tongue down his throat. She doesn’t know he’s Tris’s ex but finds out soon enough, and they both take the opportunity to piss her off and get to know each other as they chase, in turn, Caroline and the band around the city’s hot spots.
The charms of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist aren’t infinite, but there’s plenty to warm to, from Sollett’s ability to capture the thrill of a night in New York to the soundtrack, which is indie-rock-heavy without being precious. Mostly, though, you’ll love the characters: Both Nick and Norah are smart, funny, and realistic—no Juno lingo here—and their passion for music makes you feel like running to a show the minute you get out of the theater. A great scene takes place in a famous studio, the camera panning over equipment as the new couple, well, make out. A shot of a sound leveler as Norah’s breathing gets heavier is, admittedly, cheesy. But it’s over quickly enough, just like the film itself—the story may not linger, but the life-is-good feeling it leaves you with will.