Some movies skate by fast on slick action. Others snap with crisp dialogue. Nick and Norah springs high on the bounce of its hugely likable leads, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings.
Together this appealing twosome, he, skinny as a drumstick, and she, shapely as a Fender Stratocaster, make music danceable as the tracks on Nick's mix tapes.
The movie's 16 Candles-meets-After Hours plot - where in the five boroughs is the fictional band Where's Fluffy playing? - is a convenient excuse just to hear its costars' effortless riffs. While you may know Cera from Juno and Dennings from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you have not heard the comic harmonics of his nasal wisecracks and her deep-throated parries.
This sophomore film from Peter Sollett, who made the gritty East Village romance Raising Victor Vargas, focuses on the New Jersey mallrats trolling the same urban frontier. Because Nick and Norah's landmarks are clubs and all-night restaurants largely unknown outside of New York, it likewise has a fresh sense of place, if an unapologetically upmarket orientation.
Working from a screenplay by Lorena Scafaria, who adapted the young-adult novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Sollett rewrites the high school romantic gospel according to John Hughes.
Rather than events that build up to a showdown at the prom, the film shows how high schoolers behave outside the familiar social hierarchy. While Nick and Norah initially care about the opinion of Tris (Alexis Dziena), the farther they get from Hoboken (in Nick's taxicab-yellow Yugo), the less Tris matters. And the easier it is to listen to their palpitating hearts.
Somebody must have thought this broth was too thin, because it's been thickened, rather lumpily, with a grossout plotline about Norah's drunken bud, Caroline (Ari Graynor), remarkably committed to her chewing gum.
But can someone answer this headscratcher: Why does Norah, who repeatedly identifies as Jewish, attend Catholic school?
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Peter Sollett, written by Lorene Scafaria, based on the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. With Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, Rafi Gavron, Aaron Yoo, Alexis Dziena. Distributed by Screen Gems.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (underage drinking, sexuality, profanity)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5402. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/