This is going to sound kind of random, but this generation finally has its "American Graffiti" in the form of "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist."
Like "Graffiti" (1973), "Nick and Norah" takes place over the course of one night and it's packed with good music (note to self: pick up the soundtrack). While "Graffiti" followed several characters, "Nick and Norah" focuses on two young adults who are lovesick and put-upon (Nick's yellow Yugo is often mistaken for a cab).
Guitar-playing, mix-tape-making Nick is played by Michael Cera, who has made a fine career out of doing slight variations on George Michael Bluth from "Arrested Development." Music-mogul daughter Norah is played by Kat Dennings from "The 40 Year Old Virgin"; she is the perfect everygirl to Cera's everyguy. I thought I'd be rooting more for Alexis Dziena (from TV's "Invasion") as Nick's cheating girlfriend, but I was all about Norah as soon as I met her.
"Nick and Norah" is nearly perfect in its purposeful imperfection. Nick and Norah speak exactly like real young people in 2008, a time when cynicism is recently deceased, but dry witticisms hang on, and old-fashioned kindness is on the verge of a comeback.
Trading insults with Norah's boyfriend (Jay Baruchel), who says Nick's trio is one arm short of a decent Def Leppard cover band, Nick stumbles to get out a barb and mumbles something about male anatomy and a Shania Twain tribute act. It makes no sense, but that's how our minds work under pressure, when we don't have a screenplay to help us (and, of course, that's the mark of a good screenplay).
The supporting characters give us the comedic side of "romantic comedy," from Nick's gay bandmates to Norah's drunken friend. There are unfortunate holdovers from the "American Pie" school of humor - we follow a wad of gum on a disgusting journey, and there's a scene in a recording studio that doesn't jibe with the sweetness of Nick and Norah's pairing. But those are small complaints.
The New York settings are dirty and wonderful; everyone has a well-earned sheen of grit on them by the end. And that metaphor-laden finale got me and my friends talking, as well-written movies do.
I haven't felt this much affection for a film since 2004's "Garden State" (now a "Family Guy" punchline), but judging by the opening-night laughs at Movies 10 and the critics' reviews, I'll have to share my love of "Nick and Norah" with a lot of people.
But, hey, sharing is the whole point of a mix tape, so it fits.
- By John Hansen,