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What do you get when you cast Michael Cera as an awkward late-teen/quasi-geek; a sassy, smart, attractive girl who is a better catch then she thinks; a killer Indie soundtrack; and comedic side characters that deliver the goods? Juno? Not quite. Peter Sollett decided to follow-up his acclaimed drama Raising Victor Vargas by jumping on the pretentious cool train to do a “smart” teen comedy. What we get is Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is a real good time; maybe not as fresh or original as one would hope, the laughs are there and the story is enough to hold your attention. Taking place during the course of one night in New York City, searching for an elusive band’s secret gig, two lost souls find each other and discover what love is despite the preconceptions they had before meeting. Reminiscent to me of Adventures in Babysitting—the journey’s detours and mood, not the story—Sollett enhances the based-on-a-book script with songs on “five star” rotation from his iPod, (he told us after the screening, it’s true), and some great work with his actors to stay realistic and keep all that awkwardness of adolescence intact as these young kids open up and find out who they really are.

It’s an interesting twist on a common premise—guy gets dumped by girl and makes a series of “break-up” mixes, leaving them at her door, complete with handmade packaging. The egotistical brat ex-girlfriend Tris is, each disc is carefully discarded only after showing how sad Nick is losing such a great girl as she. Enter fringe outcast Norah to scoop up the discs and discover how their maker has her exact taste in music and may be her soulmate, without even knowing who he is. That set-up can only lead to a chance encounter at said sadsack’s next gig with his band, completed by his two gay friends on vocals and guitar. Norah sees Nick onstage, has a connection to him and eventually cons her way into using him as a fake boyfriend to prove she isn’t a loser to Tris. Only she doesn’t know that he is her Nick—oh the battle is on as the trio discovers the relationship each has with the other and both girls embark on a journey to win the geek over. Wow, if only real life could be this good for the nerdy sadsacks … only in Hollywood.

Back to the Adventures in Babysitting reference, while Nick and Norah slowly open their eyes to each other and see how compatible they are and Tris journeys on her mission to grab her ex back, (no way can he go from her to Norah), we also follow Caroline’s drunken stupor through the city. Known to have specific places to throw-up in, Norah enlists Nick’s bandmates to help her find the lost and clueless friend while also hoping to uncover Where’s Fluffy?’s concert location. Like Elizabeth Shue dragging her wards to find her friend Brenda while getting into precarious circumstances her ultra-hip likeability help her out of, our cast of characters here meet up with some interesting creatures. Sollett spoke how he tried to get each locale to be that from the book, actual East Village/Lower East Side haunts he himself frequents. They all needed authenticity in detail and therefore needed waitresses of equal loathing and bands that would actual play there. The look and feel are definitely genuine and help give us, as an audience, the ability to believe it all despite the conveniently contrived plot progressions utilized.

The supporting characters we meet are usually a lot of fun, especially cameos from Kevin Corrigan, (he does wonders without even uttering a word), and Andy Samberg, (a riot as a homeless man Cera’s Nick stumbles upon at a church around 3am). Sollett spoke of Samberg’s willingness to improv and the multiple takes filmed. His favorite alternate take was hilarious and probably better than what was used, but this is a film trying to get a PG-13 rating, so all you out there will have to wait for the DVD to hopefully see a gag reel. I really hope it gets on there because I’d love to see Cera’s reaction to the raunchy exchange. The larger cameos, those of friends onscreen often, are very effective as well. Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron are fantastic as Cera’s bandmates/best friends, trying to show him that Norah is the girl he wants, not Tris, while also just having a good time being themselves … never pushing the gay comedy far enough into stereotypical drivel. Ari Graynor is wonderful as Caroline, inebriated throughout, she brings some big laughs and a few cringes, especially when playing off her wad of chewing gum, a character worthy of credit itself. Jay Baruchel is a winner as well, playing against type as the hard guy, smooth talking semi-beau to Norah. He exudes cool and totally pulls her in despite me knowing him as the geeky sidekick in so many other films. Good to see him branching out a bit, effectively at that.

The true winner of the film, though, besides the amazing soundtrack of people you will probably start hearing about with their next albums as the mainstream moves to include them, is Norah herself, Kat Dennings. This girl is perfect for the role. She is cute in a humble, “I don’t think I am” kind of way, with a biting wit and sarcastic defenses. She is the kind of girl you would fight for, but also the one that will not make it easy for you to win. Intellectual and unassuming, she shies away from her father’s fame—you should figure out his job early on, but I don’t want to be the one to ruin the reveal—and attempts to be original, much like Juno and even Jaye from tv-show “Wonderfalls”. Her exchanges with Cera are always endearingly funny, if not laugh out loud—love when she drives his car—and while the awkwardness gets overplayed, ruining some of the chemistry, you do want to see them get together in the end. Not because you know they probably will, but because you agree with Yoo and Gavron, she is the one for Nick and nothing should stand in the way. Oh, the power of music, Sollett has something with his idea to use breakup tapes as unknowing relationship builders. It may not be as good as those it tries to copy, but it definitely deserves a place snuggly next to them.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist 8/10

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photography:
[1] Tom (Aaron Yoo), Dev (Rafi Gavron) and Nick (Michael Cera) star in Screen Gems’ comedy Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Photo credit: JoJo Whilden
[2] Norah (Kat Dennings) and Nick (Michael Cera) star in Screen Gem’s comedy Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Photo credit: K.C. Bailey

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