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Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Paradise Lost: Nick and Norah's meet-cute romance hits a temporary snag.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Alexis Dziena. Rated PG-13.

The best thing that can be said for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is that it knows its audience.

If that sounds like faint praise, let me explain. Teenagers in movies often fall into one of two categories: sex-crazed dopes who wind up at a wild keg party or sex-crazed dopes who wind up on the business end of a lunatic’s machete. Rare is the movie that bothers to speak their language, show some compassion for their follies and give them futures not involving the morgue or Stifler’s mom.

Nick and Norah does all those things, and does them very, very well. Clearly, director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) has great affection for his characters, and it’s not hard to understand why. Nick and Norah are appealing people who share an instant, unmistakable attraction rooted partly in their passion for the same bands and partly in something less tangible. Let’s call it chemistry.

They’re smart enough to realize that this is just the starting point, so they decide to get to know each other during a calamity-laden night of club-hopping in Manhattan. Norah (Kat Dennings, of The 40-Year-Old Virgin) crashes Nick’s “vintage” Yugo. Nick (Michael Cera) talks about his teen-princess ex until it’s painfully clear he’s still carrying a torch. Things fall apart in short order, and though reconciliation is in the offing, Lorene Scafaria’s script, adapted from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, never hits a false note on its way there.

That’s mostly because Nick and Norah exists in a universe most people will recognize, and I’m not referring to the East Village. There are no car chases, close encounters with neanderthal cops, or any of the other depressingly familiar scenarios that tend to play out when scripts call for a wild and crazy night. There are no mawkish moments of male bonding, in the Judd Apatow vein. When Nick talks with his gay best friends, whose sexuality is incidental and never treated as a gimmick, they speak like reasonable adults thrust into unreasonable but wholly plausible predicaments.

Nick and Norah will invariably draw comparisons with Juno, if only because it has been marketed in a transparently similar manner, and because both movies star Michael Cera. The difference? Nick and Norah has an ear for dialogue that doesn’t sound oh-so-cleverly contrived. It’s just as sweet – disarmingly so, without seeming saccharine – but it feels genuine. The best love stories always do.

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