October 3, 2008

Teen Romance Sticks With Clean Comedy Want to Know What Else is Showing?

Club-hopping across what is left of New York's East Village night spots is a winning invitation at any age. (Yes, we've been known to do it, and more recently than we're admitting.)

In the case of "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," the titular couple are sweet mini-hipsters in search of the mythic rock group Where's Fluffy? The band is giving a "secret" concert in Manhattan, and it's a must-see for CD mixers.

Where's Fluffy? promotes its "secret" shows on the walls of restroom stalls. Advertising would be so five minutes ago.

"Nick and Norah" is a fevered attempt to enliven the usual predictability of the teenage romantic comedy. It tries valiantly, and with occasional success, to be sweet as an antidote to the more predominate raunchiness of the Jack Black-Judd Apatow comedies that have won such box office success. Those films simply say "Make it gross, and it'll sell." This one attempts something more risky - getting real.

In a night wandering across New York, ending in a nice sunrise of potential young love, "Nick and Norah" avoids the grungy, dirty sites of "Adventures in Babysitting." It also, regrettably, lacks the emotional drama of Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" or the meaningful dialogue of "Before Sunrise."

Still, with the R-rated "Sex Drive" waiting ominously for release in two weeks , one has to appreciate the effort. Directed by Peter Sollett, this is adapted from the popular young adult novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan that has been changed to showcase the awkward, droll act of comedy's current wonder kid, Michael Cera, best known as the daddy of Juno's illegitimate baby. Indeed, "Nick" would like very much to be a companion piece to the Oscar-winning "Juno," but it lacks a charismatic central character to carry it.

Cera is appealing but repeats the same aw-shucks act he used in the TV series "Arrested Development,""Juno" and "Superbad." It works better as a supporting character. (For all about Michael Cera, read our interview with him in Saturday's Daily Break).

Things open with Nick downtrodden because Tris (Alexis Dziena) has dumped him. He puts together a CD mix to persuade her that she's done the wrong thing. He's so down that he isn't even excited about his band's current gig in Manhattan.

Following the set, he meets Nora (Kat Dennings), who feverishly asks him to "be my boyfriend for five minutes." She's alone and wants the ever-snobby Tris, a distant "friend," to see her kiss Nick.

Nick is puzzled by everything, not believing that this girl wants a kiss.

The cast, including Jay Baruchel and Aaron Yoo as Tal and Thom, takes off across town in an effort to (1) find Where's Fluffy? and (2) keep Caroline, a drunken girlfriend, out of trouble.

In the comedy category, Ari Graynor as Caroline steals the show. She's the girl who's not really as slutty as she pretends to be but is always in trouble, and always drunk. Through it all, Graynor uses a bit of gum to the extent that it becomes another character in the movie. At least give Graynor a TV series.

When Nick's little yellow car is mistaken for a taxi cab, it creates one funny episode. And, then, well, it's difficult to think of another episode that was really hilarious. Caroline and the car. That's about it.

The rest is mostly fishing - a scattershot of episodes with the hope that something will hit either the funny bone or the emotional register.

There isn't much chemistry between Dennings and Cera, but one supposes it's meant to be that way up until the predictable end.

Mal Vincent, (757) 446-2347, [email protected]

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