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Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Alexis Dziena, Jay Baruchel
Directed by: Peter Sollett
Written by: Rachel Cohn (novel), Lorene Scafaria (screenplay)
Runtime: 90 mins
Rated: PG-13
Release: February 3, 2009

Whoever thought America’s sweetheart would one day be a man? It’s hard to imagine anyone more likeable in Hollywood right now than Michael Cera, who since leaving Fox’s critically acclaimed Arrested Development has become something of an awkward, gangly, adored 20-year-old star. Why do we love him? Well, unlike past twenty-something heartthrobs, he’s actually likeable and believable; although girls might have fallen at the feet of Freddie Prinze Jr. or a young Matt Damon in the ‘90s, only a fraction of us dudes could actually identify with those ripped hunks. However, just about everyone, girl or guy, has completely embarrassed themselves in attempts to talk to the opposite sex or missed the cut trying to make the high school basketball, cheerleading, or football teams. After all, there’s only one star quarterback for every two- to three-hundred dorky chess club, computer squad, or band members.

Cera reprises his role as the dreamy geek in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a quirky little comedy about several teens let loose on New York City’s nightlife – the equivalent, I’d say, of letting toddlers roam free in a candy store. The movie follows Nick (Cera) and his fellow band members (all of whom, aside from Nick of course, are gay) as they plunge into NYC’s indie music club scene for one very long, adventurous evening.

The night starts with Nick, heartbroken over a dumping at the hands of ex, Tris (the sultry Alexis Dziena), moping his way through a set in a seedy downtown bar populated by, almost exclusively, likewise heartbroken and needy twenty-somethings. After noticing Tris on the arm of pretty boy Gary, Nick just about melts into a pool of self-despair (which I think is about one part tears, three parts Jagermeister). Saving the day is the equally disturbed Norah, who plants one on Nick right in front of Tris to make the latter jealous and give this movie at least a skeletal plotline.

Ugh, sounds like a cafeteria scene, doesn’t it? From there, the plot is mostly a rotating spasm of angst, alcohol, anger, and elation – Nick and Norah’s relationship rises and dips much like a high school romance – ‘oh, you still like her?’; ‘oh, I love also love that band!’; ‘oh, I just want to be loved!’; ‘oh, you understand me so perfectly…we’re soulmates!’ Of course, this isn’t actual dialogue, but it just might as well have been snipped from the script.

In many ways, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist has been done before. It’s the post-Y2K version of ‘80s and ‘90s teen soaps like The Breakfast Club, Can’t Hardly Wait, or Dazed and Confused. The plot is driven almost entirely by its characters with almost no payoff in the form of action, suspense, or exotic locales.

So, the question is, do we like these characters? Unfortunately, I spent most of the movie hoping something would explode – preferably with everyone but Cera inside. Nick’s bandmates are just too much; too sweet, too caring, too out-of-this-world. They’re like the desperate girl at a party you just want to leave already. Norah, played by the mostly unrecognizable Kat Dennings, is a bit pushy, a bit nuts, and not all that likeable herself. Perhaps because I found it so easy to identify with Cera, I wasn’t convinced that Norah was all that much of an improvement over the femme fatale Tris.

So, the characters – the movie’s breadwinners – just aren’t that great. Cera goes a long way to making this one passable and I laughed out loud at those awkward smiles and poses made so memorable in Arrested and Superbad – but his performance isn’t quite enough to save this sinking ship. Although many of us will see some of our own teenage exploits in this film about several high-schoolers taking on the world for one long night, the plot is unfortunately far too thin. Most of the evening is spent trying to find Norah’s wayward and very drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), but the latter is so intensely annoying (as perpetually drunk friends tend to be), that we just don’t want to see her found.

Maybe this small-town Canadian boy just can’t identify with a romping teen affair below NYC’s dazzling neon glow, but simply put this is a film about a group of self-involved high schoolers I didn’t find particularly interesting. Their dual mission – to find drunken Caroline and a fictional indie rock group named Where’s Bunny – is likeable to the story of that time my Dad and I unsuccessfully tried to install a satellite dish in the backyard. They are all trials filled with angst, frustration, and ambivalent bonding, but no one really wants to see a movie made about them.

If Cera is your ungainly hero, by all means this is probably worth checking out. However, for most of us there are better things to see and hear than Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

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