There is no question that Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) are destined for True Love. For one thing, they have the same taste in music. Nick is still making mixes for the girl who dumped him (Alexis Dziena as Tris, who doesn’t want Nick but REALLY doesn’t want him to want anyone else) because that is the best way for him to express how he feels. He does not know that Norah snags them because she may not know who he is, but she knows he is her musical soulmate. When Tris threw the most recent one into the trash (“Road to Closure: Volume XII”), Norah retrieved it and loved it.
And they share names with the most adorable couple in the history of movies, Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the “Thin Man” series. Powell and Loy, who appeared together more than any on-screen team in the sound era, were always magic together (I am especially partial to “I Love You Again”), but what made their “Thin Man” couple so unusual was that they were already married when they began. The original Nick and Nora made marriage look like fun; they were better evidence that there is such a thing as happily ever after than a hundred movies that end with a wedding.
This Nick and Norah have a way to go to get to happily ever after, but it is a journey we enjoy taking with them. First, the characters are played by two of the most endearing young performers in films today, Michael Cera (from “Juno” and “Superbad”) and Kat Dennings (“40 Year Old Virgin” and “The House Bunny”). Second, the script is fresh, funny, and real, and third it is superbly directed by Peter Sollett, whose Raising Victor Vargas showed great skill at telling stories about teenagers that feel true, immediate, and intimate.
It all takes place on one night in the small town that is New York City, or at least the part of New York that is cool for high school seniors, who cruise around and run into each other pretty much constantly except when they are trying to find each other. Nick, Norah, Tris and her new date, Nick’s kind-hearted gay bandmates, and Norah’s very drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor, whose dazzling smile almost completely de-tawdrifies her character’s situation, even when she’s barfing into a bus station toilet that was already plenty disgusting enough).
The film adroitly sidesteps the expected teen movie cliches. Nick and Norah are tentative about their feelings for one another but they each know who they are and they both have a level of confidence about interacting in the world and understanding what is important to them. I liked the way Norah talked about “tikkun olam,” the Jewish imperative to heal the world.” It is very nice to see a movie character, especially a young one, who draws something meaningful from religion and to see something Jewish in a movie that is not “oy vay,” bagels, or guilt. The movie also draws from the emerging world of cuddle puddles and technological omni-connectedness to move the story forward without being intrusive or showy or trying too hard to be hip. And it beautifully catches the way that falling in love at the same time transforms us and makes us our most authentic selves.