Michael Cera as Nick
Kat Dennings as Norah
Alexis Dziena as Tris
Jay Baruchel as Tal
Aaron Yoo as Thom
Ari Graynor as Caroline
Rafi Gavron as Dev
Jonathan B. Wright as Lethario
Cassidy Gard as Hipster
Simon Dasher as Caroline’s admirer
Philip E Jones as Caroline’s Admirer
R.J. Romano as Tal’s Bandmate
Joe Giorgio as Tal’s Bandmate
Marika Daciuk as Ukrainian Waitress
Directed by Peter Sollett
A sweet story of young love on the streets of New York thrives on the chemistry between its two young stars, but is marred by the needlessly low-brow comedy added to try to create comedy that appeals to a larger (i.e. dumber) audience.
On a crazy night in New York City, hipster teen Norah (Kat Dennings) convinces bass player Nick (Mike Cera) to be her boyfriend, only to learn he’s the ex of her friend Tris (Alexis Dziena) and is still trying to get over breaking up with her. Meanwhile, Norah’s incredibly drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) has gone missing Nick’s gay friends agreed to take her off the duo’s hands, so they spend the rest of the night trying to find her.
Whenever there’s a movie based on a novel, one always ponders whether to read the novel before going to the Cineplex or seeing the movie before deciding whether it’s worth your precious time reading the book. Since novels are generally written to be the final intended media for whatever story is being told, it’s somewhat foolish to think any movie based on a book will ever be able to capture every aspect of what one may have enjoyed while reading said book. Because of this, it rarely helps to read a book right before seeing any movie based on it.
Yet that was the case when seeing this comedy based on the novel of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, a tale of young love that takes place over the course of one night in lower Manhattan. The novel was intriguing in that it used a very specific first person stream-of-conscious narrative that alternated between its two characters, something that’s almost unfathomable to figure how it could be incorporated into a movie. Maybe that’s why director Peter Sollett (“Raising Victor Vargas”) and Lorene Scafaria, the screenwriter given the unenviable task of adapting the novel, instead decided to turn the novel into a fluffy teen romantic comedy that tries its best to appeal to a wider audience than the romantic teen females in love with the book’s central romance.
The most noticeable addition is the decision to start the movie well before the novel, introducing Michael Cera’s Nick, Kat Denning’s Norah and their surrounding friends in their New Jersey suburban environment before they all travel into New York City, Nick for a gig on the Lower East Side with his queercore band, the rest to see the show with rumors abuzz about hot punk band Where’s Fluffy playing a secret gig somewhere in town. Kat has been putting up with mercilessly cruel teasing from her friends Tris and Caroline about her being “frigid,” so when she spots Nick at the bar, she convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend, not realizing he’s Tris’ sullen ex. Nick’s friends think that hanging with Norah will be the best thing for him to get over Tris, so they agree to take the now obliviously drunk Caroline off their hands, leading to a crazy night of mayhem as the group travels throughout the city trying to find her.
From the novel’s pleasantly simple boy-meets-girl premise, the movie is all over the place, both figuratively and literally, as far too often, it’s more concerned with its cool soundtrack and the scenery. To Sollett’s credit, he does know enough about his city, its clubs and bands to pull it off, although it does spend too much time away from the two main characters and their developing relationship, which is the entire point of the movie. The resulting movie does overly glamorize New York, but in a good way, one that will remind anyone who’s ever been to the city why they love it so much, though as a native, the movie reminded this writer why he doesn’t go out on Saturday night to avoid dealing with snotty, inebriated young people coming in from New Jersey.
Far too often while watching the movie, it’s impossible to ignore that both Michael Cera and Kat Dennings tend to be fairly limited as actors, only really being able to do one thing well, though their scenes together are infinitely better than the rest of the movie when they’re not on-screen. The chemistry between the two of them is not unlike the best moments between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s romantic diptych “Before Sunrise/Sunset” which does come across well in their delivery of the dialogue.
For better or worse, the movie does more with the satellite characters than the novels, particularly Nick and Norah’s exes and their friends, including Nick’s gay bandmates, allowing Aaron Yoo a few strong moments. It’s hard to deny that Ari Graynor steals the movie as Norah’s wildly drunken friend Caroline, her shenanigans getting the most laughs, although it often goes to the most obvious places to get them. Likewise, Jay Baruchel turns Norah’s pseudo-boyfriend Tal into a far more interesting character with his Israeli accent and sleazy demeanor. In fact, the movie does got a little overboard trying to make both Nick and Norah’s exes far more unlikable by having them both be rather dumb and annoying, just to stack the odds in the new couple’s favor.
The problem is that with all the enormous tangents the movie takes from the book, when it does return to a scene or a memorable piece of dialogue taken directly from the novel, it feels out of place with the rest of the movie. To fans of the novel, that’s a major problem that’ll keep many of them from completely enjoying the movie even if they do enjoy what’s done with the characters and situations.
The movie does rebound nicely in the end as it starts to get back to the main core of the story, how a relationship evolves over the course of an all-night first date, and it leads to a number of really sweet moments between the two title characters that does eventually save the movie.
The Bottom Line:
While “Nick and Norah” is by no means a bad movie, its attempt to retain random sections of the book amidst drastic overall changes turns it into an unwieldy and disjointed beast that might please those going into the movie without any previous knowledge of Kohn and Levithan’s romantic tale, but might be frustrating to the book’s fans. Whether or not anyone who hasn’t read the book will fully understand or appreciate the movie is another story, but one can only feel that reading the book beforehand will just leave one disappointed with the movie.