Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

As thin as an iPod Nano, as full of adolescent self-display as a Facebook page, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist strives to capture, in meticulous detail, what it's like to be young right now. Working from a popular novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (and an idiomatically spot-on screenplay by Lorene Scafaria) the director, Peter Sollett, spins a shy, sweet romance around a carefully chosen soundtrack with music (and cameo appearances) by such emblems of up-to-the-minute hipster credibility as the singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart and the band Bishop Allen, among others.

Nick and Norah, New Jersey high school students bouncing through the rock clubs of New York, are drawn together by their shared musical passions (in particular for an enigmatic band called Where's Fluffy). The tunes that play alongside their nocturnal adventure express longing, sadness, anxiety and joy with more intensity than they can muster themselves. Nick, played by the wet-noodle heartthrob Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) and Norah (Kat Dennings, who has a hint of Kate Winslet's soft, smart loveliness in her face) are, like so many kids these days, most comfortable with diffidence, understatement and a deadpan style of address that collapses the distinction between irony and sincerity.

Norah's wary, pouty manner and Nick's odd mix of timidity and sarcasm are both strategies of self-protection. He has recently been dumped by Tris (Alex Dziena), a schoolmate of Norah's and one of her social oppressors. She has a sometime boyfriend (Jay Baruchel) and, behind her mask of indifference, a lot of self-doubt. The daughter of a recording industry big shot, Norah is never sure if anyone likes her for herself. Nick, for his part, seems unsure about whether he likes himself at all.

But Nick and Norah are cool, and also nice. Which is cool for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, and nice for them, but also somewhat limiting. Mr. Sollett shows an admirably low-key directorial temperament, resisting the temptations of melodrama and farce that hover around any teenage romantic comedy. Like Raising Victor Vargas, his earlier feature (also about lovestruck young people in Lower Manhattan, but set in a demographic universe far removed from Nick and Norah's zone of suburban entitlement), Infinite Playlist regards its characters with affectionate detachment, and assures its audience that no great calamities or revelations are in store. Instead, there are a series of small crises and tiny epiphanies, all adding up to a story that courts triviality in its pursuit of charm.

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