To make a good romantic comedy, you need to get the hell out of Hollywood. There's nothing there but Botox, Spencer Pratt and loneliness, which is why it's nice for a movie to go back to the most mythologized city in film and the place where almost all of Woody Allen's classic tales of love were set, good ol' New York City.
The opening to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a love letter to New York as well as an attempt to take back the romantic comedy genre from the more minimalist, contemporary indie aesthetic. As the skyline of the city that never sleeps looms in the background, the skyscraper's lights stark against the bluish dusk of night, two separate groups of New Jersey high school students cross the bridges and tunnels into the Big Apple, both on a quest to find the legendary act Where's Fluffy. The band, famous for their rare and secretive shows, are playing a clandestine concert somewhere amongst the clubs and covert hideaways found in the corners of New York and the teens are going to be there to see it.
The two titular characters meet at a gig for Nick's (Michael Cera) band, the Jerk Offs and as Norah's (Kat Dennings) best friend Caroline (Ari Graynon) gets viciously blotto at the show, Nick's bandmates offer to take the lush home. They encourage Norah to work some feminine magic over the excessively-emo Nick, who has spent his weeks crying and making mixtapes for his bitchy ex-girlfriend. As the two title characters ride off into the night in Nick's violently yellow Yugo, they start on a late-night adventure to find Fluffy and maybe bring about a little amore along the way.
Cera's continues to get typecast into the role of the lovably dorky every-teen who is completely inept with women. He is a little less awkward in this film than in previous efforts like Juno or Arrested Development. His portrayal of a teen obsessed with music feels very real, like everyone's best friend who spends way too much time on music blogs. This contrasts with the more mature Dennings, who plays Norah in a more sophisticated, sardonic and outspoken manner similar to Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson's turns in Ghost World.
Despite what the trailers show, the two characters don't really spend most of their time in some giggly version of love. Dennings and Cera spar frequently, often getting testy as their search for Fluffy leads them across the city. This also leads to emotionally-wrenching moments, like one particular scene near the end of the film. Norah goes off with her douchebag hipster ex-boyfriend when Nick takes Tris (Alexis Dziena), his scenery-munching bitchy ex-girlfriend, home after she's made doe-eyes at him all night-- despite earlier disgust at his presence. It's brutally real and depressing for people who've been in those kinds of situations. Otherwise, it does come across a tad melodramatic.
Despite some of the more soppy elements, the film is a loving tribute to finding and connecting with similarly minded people in the counter-culture. Some will grimace at the story because it's not self-referential or ironic enough to appeal to their too cool for school tastes. The story is a romanticized tale for those who stay up late, go to the dingiest of clubs and spend their days in record shops looking for the rarest vinyl records, meant for the swelling group of people who can't identify with Romantic Comedy Vehicle 325: Renee Zellweger is a Chubby British Gal.